Thursday, 29 December 2016

Short Meditations on Topics of a Spiritual Nature

We are good. We love. And we are strong. We choose to love, love under will.

Love is the Law

The law of God is love. Utter obedience to the law is what God requires, that's the standard, this is what God requires of us. When we love one another with full and genuine hearts we fulfil the law of God.

1 Peter 2: 5 And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests.

The assertion of Christianity is that when our lives are really joined, when our lives are shared with one another in genuine care and affection, then we become a holy temple. A house, built of living stones, where God dwells. That when in spirit and in truth we live as one people, then the power of love amongst us is literally unstoppable. From amidst us can rise a perfect and divine love. And love is not weak, love is strong.

From 1 Peter 2: 9 You are royal priests, a holy nation, belonging to God.

Building this, making it real amongst us, is the work of the heart. As a Royal Priesthood it is our duty to enforce the law, to make real the reign of heaven by putting it into practise. This means building social structures that require of its members that they love one another. Building living structures (a culture) that notice when people aren't loved and doing something about it. There is patience, grace and forgiveness, because loving hurts, but ultimately if you refuse to love you cannot remain. So who remains?

This Christians call "building the New Creation", a renewed humanity. "We, with tears, together build the New Creation".

Incidentally, my experience of those who try to put into practise third wave feminism is that they are attempting to build social structures that require of its members that they love and respect one another. This is why I believe that at the heart of the practise of modern feminism is a move of God, a movement of love. My experience of the practise of feminism - by both men and women - is of good people (often beautiful people) working hard on building programs and communities to ensure that people feel loved and included. They work hard to  provide a route into careers and communities that have traditionally been closed or difficult for many types of people. They talk in terms of building loving accepting communities and their actions and characters reflect their words. This is why I find the violent rejection of feminism so repugnant, because what people claim to reject has little to do with reality (unless your main experience of feminism is arguing with teenagers on tumblr) and is a rejection of much that is lovely and of the heart of God.

Beautiful Women

I had the privilege of being in a church service recently and seeing the hearts of many beautiful women and feeling how they have given their lives to love. How they have loved, and how it has hurt them, and how they still love. I know of nothing more beautiful.

I am undone. I can only aspire to that love. That is what I long to be.

My strange, and sad, conclusion is that the true nature of men is war and the true nature of women is love. I do believe however that they can come together in real unity, and when they do the result is beautiful, glorious and terrible.

I have "spoken" several times about the particular virtues of women. Not necessarily in contrast to the virtues of men, but standing as a thing of its own. To revere [some] women is not to disparage men. My own limited experience of interacting with women (42 years) along with my understanding of the current conclusions of modern human biology and my understanding of gender identity, is that men and women are largely psychologically the same and that differences in general can be explained by systemic rather than innate causes.

However that is not a thing to be taken lightly. Men and women are socialised very differently, the experience of being a woman is different to the experience of a man due to the differences in the systemic social pressures they are under. In general women are socialised into taking on more caring roles and to think less of themselves for doing it. This means that the values I hold as most precious tend to be exemplified more, in general, in women than in men. Although this is societal, society itself is a symptom of evolution (of consciousness particularly).

In general I tend to find women more caring, less proud, and with less tendency to think they already know it all than men. Therefore I think it is fair to say that it is possible to simultaneously hold that in general women are no different than men but that in general women tend to be better people than men.

Additionally, the relationship between mother and child does seem to be special. Both because of the way that children are formed in relationship to the mother and because mothers tend to take on the role of primary carer. It is well understood that one of the most powerful forces in the world, not to be messed with, is the love of a mother for her children. Motherhood seems to instinctually inspire a deep sacrificial love in women. I hold sacrificial love to be the highest form of love and visible in the character of women who are shaped by their experience and practise of motherhood.

The Way

It doesn't matter where you start from, it really doesn't. All that matters is: are you on the way?

Buddhism teaches that the essential nature of life is suffering, which is to be escaped. Taoism teaches that life is sweet, if only you can find the way. Buddhist meditation (the deliberate practise of stilling the soul) has probably taught me more than anything else, for which I am grateful, but to this extent Taoism is better than Buddhism.

The early disciples of Jesus were known as "followers of the way". The way is love. Love is the way.

Love and Pain

Loving people hurts. This is because, as you love someone you start to feel their pain. And everybody hurts.

We must not turn from this though, it's the sweetest pain in the world. If you feel the pain of another person without flinching you help them to bear it. This is the only way any of us can really make it, by bearing one anothers' pain in love.

In Christian terms we call this a participation in the wounds of Christ. "My life poured out, just bread and wine".

The Cut

What feels like death, the vicious cut of the fire, is actually life. The refiner's fire is something to be enjoyed not feared. Let it cut, it is merely an unmaking.

This reminds me of a poem I wrote for a "tweet" (140 characters): There is a poison at the heart of beauty. A molecular unbinding. And if you won't be unmade, perhaps you die.

On the Discipline of Children

Raising children, the making of family, is a sacred trust and duty.

The value of physical punishment (spanking) is an ongoing debate and can still be a controversial topic. It is a topic on which many people with good and genuine hearts have a different opinion to me.

It is possible to have a good and genuine heart and still hold opinions and beliefs that are objectively wrong (or perhaps merely "objectively less right"). And yes, that applies to me just as much as anyone else.

On this particular topic there is a growing consensus amongst scientific communities, based on study and evidence, that spanking appears to be harmful - even when those subjected to it don't feel it was harmful (and are themselves more likely to spank their own children).

Our experience as parents, so far, has been that we haven't *had* to spank our children in order to effectively discipline them - in which case, why *would* we?

I always assumed we would spank our children, but before we had any I watched my sister and her husband, Kate and Simon Biddlestone, raise a gaggle of very well disciplined children without it. To them I am grateful for their example.


Fear has just one trick - to make you afraid. If you can lose your fear of fear, if you become willing to face your fear, then its power is broken and it cannot stand.

Becoming truly free is a long journey, but there's a clear path. Face yourself and choose to love.

We often think that the enemy of love is hate. That isn't quite right, fear is the real enemy. Hate can be good. It is said of God that he loves what is good and hates all evil. That hate is a strong fire of goodness. Be willing to hate but refuse to fear.


True art is not paintings or music or sculpture or poetry or words of any kind. The most beautiful creativity, the purest art of all, is how we shape and reflect beauty in the lives of those around us. Our artwork is the transformation of the people and world around us into a better, more beautiful place. This is the work of the heart. Show me your art.

The Reality of Being

The psychedelic experiences of my youth, which did such damage to me and everything I cared about, also taught me a particular lesson that I cherish. LSD made viscerally clear that everything I *perceived* and understood about reality was a subjective mental construct - and subject to deception and alteration.

This is why humans make such bad witnesses, our recollection and understanding of reality often diverges wildly from any "objective" truth. Of course some people even doubt the existence of objective truth.

The assertion of many spiritual systems, all utterly unproven by anyone, is that reality itself is a "mental" construct (as mental as you like really).

I find this assertion in Christianity in the myth (a word which of itself says nothing about the truth or otherwise of the events portrayed) of Moses meeting God in the burning bush, the fire that burns but does not consume. Asking the name of God (of course a real name conveys true nature - fundamental to several magickal systems incidentally) he gets back the answer "I am". YHVH. Christianity puts "being" at the heart of reality, the foundation and source of life.

Spiritually Stateless?

I often find in geeks (the worlds of software engineering and computer science where I partially abide) minds and hearts that are open to interesting ideas and willing to explore new ways of thinking. However they generally think that all that Jesus stuff is bullshit and I'm odd (well, odder I guess) for giving it any time at all.

I more often find in Christians, minds and hearts that think refusing to see things in a new way is actually a virtue.

Nonetheless, in Christian fellowship and worship I find a valuing, above all else, and revering of the deep and perfect love that is sacred to me and has irradiated my soul.

This disparity leaves me feeling somewhat spiritually stateless at times. The gradual rise of progressive Christianity, and its understanding that love is indeed God, gives me cause for much hope.

Spiritual Home

In my experience of Western Buddhism the Sangha (spiritual community) is primarily taught as a route to individual enlightenment.

Jesus taught that the kingdom of heaven (on earth) was all in all. The kingdom is the means, effect and purpose of spirituality. Our present and future hope.


As a Christian I don't worry much about sin, I don't give it any time. That's what being forgiven means.Just work (hard) on having a genuine heart, everything else follows. When you do make mistakes, or do things that you don't know whether or not they're a mistake, deal with the consequences and move on. Being freed from sin doesn't mean being free from the consequences, we still have to face who we are what we've done. What it does mean is that sin cannot, and does not, separate us from God because of the blood of Christ.

Repentance is still real. When you see your sin, all the ways you've hurt people, sorrow over it and let go of it. You are forgiven. These things are not held against you. The past is gone and dealt with.

Sin is dealt with, once and for all. This is a central teaching of Christianity. All that is left to do is to live right. 

Warriorhood: Wing Chun

The philosophy of Wing Chun, a martial art I'd never heard of, from: Wing Chun on Wikipedia:
  • One who excels as a warrior does not appear formidable.
  • One who excels in fighting is never aroused in anger.
  • One who excels in defeating their enemy does not join issues.
  • One who excels in employing others humbles themself before them.
  • This is the virtue of non-contention and matching the sublimity of heaven.
Interesting stuff.

I often wonder if the "attitude of the warrior" can be made to mean anything in normal life. We certainly have modern warriors, that's real enough and a source of great harm and destruction.

I am trying to cultivate genuine strength in my life as I think that great gentleness, which I aspire to, requires great strength. In Krav Maga training, which I did for six months despite my physical ineptitude, I found a path to releasing great aggression whilst remaining in control. This has been useful in life, to help master myself, but I did find the training was making me more aggressive in general so I stopped. I still cherish what I learned though.

Anger, like sexuality, is something that when untamed can do great harm. People hurt each other because they can't control themselves. Be angry and do not sin!
Anyway, some interesting maxims above. I shall meditate...

"I don't believe in the supernatural. I merely believe that the natural is more super than we give it credit for."

A Jewish Love Story

 This is an emerald and diamond ring worn by my mother Nina Foord. In this photo her hands are still a bit "raw", a side-effect of the chemotherapy she has just completed after a successful operation on bowel cancer. It has not been my mother's best year but she has pushed through it with dignity and determination.

The ring was made by my great-great-grandfather who was a Prussian Jew and jeweller to the crown Prince of Prussia.

This ring was made as an engagement ring for my great-great-grandmother. It was lost during the holocaust, then somehow (we don't really know how) it made its way back to my grandmother after the war.

My maternal grandparents were German Jews who escaped Berlin to the UK just before the Second World War started. Jewish lineage is inherited through the mother, which makes me, along with Kate Biddlestone and David Foord, Jewish. This is part of our story.

Almost all of my grandparents' family were murdered by the Nazis during the war, except for a handful who escaped and scattered across the world.

My grandfather first proposed to my grandmother when he was 12 and she was 9, but they weren't to marry until after the war.

The engagement photo of Manfred and Else, taken in Berlin in 1938/9.
They grew up in a Prussian town called Königsberg. There was a big Jewish population in Königsberg, as it was the end of the train line for Jews escaping the Russian pogroms. Many Jews used the sea port of the Baltic coast (where as children Manfred and Else would watch the waves freeze in winter) to escape to America. However, many felt safe enough in Prussia to settle there. After the war Königsberg was annexed by Russia and renamed Kaliningrad. All the previous inhabitants were expelled and it became a military town, so Manfred and Else were never able to return. Manfred and Else attended the local boys' and girls' grammar schools and sang together in the combined choir. Else was in the same class as Manfred's sister Masie.

My grandfather (Opa) came to Edinburgh on a student visa and my grandmother (Oma) came to the south coast to work as a maid. Domestic servants were the only women the UK would take at the time, quite a challenge for a fiercely intelligent woman like my grandmother. Jewish women were only accepted from Germany into the UK if they had a specific job to go to. So someone we don't know saved my grandmother by providing a Jewish woman with a job.

Manfred's sister Masie escaped to America, but unfortunately died when my mother was young.

At this point Manfred and Else were engaged to be married, but separated by circumstance.

When the war started my grandfather was interned by the British on the Isle of Man as an enemy national. All the internees were then transferred to internment camps in Canada. The sea voyage was extremely perilous due to German U-boats, and as they'd lost touch Else spent the whole war not knowing if Manfred was even alive.

On his return to the UK Manfred had to track Else down. He eventually found her, still in service, in Aylesbury. They married in Aylesbury with literally only sixpence (6d) and a battered saucepan to their name.

Else Aron, my grandmother's maiden name, is a descendant of Moses' brother Aaron. Apparently this was "traceable" but the details are lost. She was the first cousin of Hannah Arendt, the famous Jewish political philosopher who wrote about totalitarianism. Hannah's works have understandably become more "popular" in recent days and the royalties my mother receives have been steadily increasing (although her share is still relatively small).

My grandmother is one of the most beautiful women I've ever known. Her gentle love was a strong formative influence throughout my childhood.

My grandfather's ancestry is traced to the tribe of Benjamin, after whom my son is named.

Before the war, in Berlin, Opa was a top concert pianist taught by Otto Klemperer's sister. After the war, he couldn't afford a piano, and by the time he could have bought one he had completely lost the heart to play. He was delighted to have a musical granddaughter (my sister Kate) and encouraged her musical education.

Manfred educated himself to a high level in Canada learning Latin and Greek, but the only work he could find initially was as a coil winder in a munitions factor in Aylesbury. He then got a job as an editor for the publisher Faber and Faber and they moved to London where my mother was born in 1947. His next job was in Cambridge working for the Royal Commission for Historical Monuments, working with Nikolaus Pevsner who is a famous art historian. Their job was investigating historical buildings to decide which should have preservation orders. Manfred Bräude is named as a contributor in some of Nickolaus' publications.

Whilst working for the Royal Commission Manfred started delivering extramural lectures for Cambridge university on art history, specialising in Roman art in Britain. The university recognised that he was a gifted teacher and he took on a position filling in for someone on sabbatical for the classics faculty at Cambridge, specialising in Greek and Roman art. The university wanted to employ him permanently but he had never completed his degree due to his internment. Their solution was to give him an honorary degree.

Manfred remained a classics lecturer at St Catherine's college until his retirement. He frequently won the student vote for best lecturer in the classics faculty and he claimed to have never given the same lecture twice.

Taken during the celebration of their golden wedding anniversary. Already ill with cancer, this was just a few months before Oma died at the age of 75. Opa lived for four more years, but was utterly miserable without her.

Written by Michael and Nina Foord. December 2016.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Certainty and Faith

I've slightly changed my mind on certainty. Descartes' conclusion was "I think therefore I am": the *only* certainty is "I Am". 

So that is certain, but beyond that we must abandon certainty as the basis of knowledge and our interaction with the world. We must be willing to live with uncertainty. Interestingly, modern physics teaches that uncertainty (and chaos) are fundamental properties of the universe. 

When certainty has gone, what you're left with is something like "degree of confidence". This is very like the scientific method, developing models of how the world works knowing that they are incomplete and at least partially wrong (you probably can't be right, but you can aspire to be less wrong). Always be willing to be wrong and evaluate new experiences and ideas in the light of what you already know. 

A phrase I prefer to "degree of confidence", but which some people find problematic, is "the measure of your faith". Faith is capacity to trust, not certainty. How able (in practise not in theory) are you to trust your worldview. 

As a slight conceptual alternative, Buddhism and particularly Zen Buddhism, teaches abandoning all worldviews (transcending the ego). This is the Zen concept of "no mind". Approach reality with no preconceptions and experience reality directly rather than interpreting and filtering sense perception. 

So, if you have faith in your understanding of the world you should be free to interact with the world without having to "believe" anything. If your understanding is correct then the results of your interaction will accord with your understanding and if you are incorrect they won't. How strongly you believe in your worldview has no relevance to this. The stronger your faith (confidence) the more able to test your worldview (try it out) you are. No matter how strong your faith you still might be (and probably are) wrong. 

This is why I find rational scepticism a useful approach to spirituality (if you're at least willing to believe). An evidence based approach. Contrary to popular understanding this is taught in scripture: Hebrews 11:1 "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."

Along these lines I love Daniel Kahneman's work in empirical psychology. He demonstrates that the scientific method can be applied to the "soft sciences" of sociology and psychology. (The soft sciences are harder than the hard sciences, because people are complex.) Daniel Kahneman's approach is to make hypotheses about the subjective aspects of the operation of the human soul (psyche). He then devised experiments that could validate those hypotheses, making them "objective" by applying them to lots of people and seeing if the hypothesis holds. 

Fundamentally this means to me that all the mysteries of the universe, including the nature and substance of consciousness, are "solved problems". There are just the details to work out...

Aleisteir Crowley, an English occultist who cultivated a dark reputation that is mostly undeserved, taught that these methods could be applied to spirituality; something he called the "science of magick". For him the essence of magick was effecting change through will. Without comment on the validity or moral probity of his conclusions and methods, I like the approach. His most emphatic conclusion was that "Love is the law, love under will", which is something I hold to be a universal truth and very much like teachings of Jesus and John. John is the gospel and letter writer - who, in my opinion, best interprets and explains the teachings of Christ. Paul I find impressive but problematic (authoritarian and therefore partly wrong - especially evidenced in his attitude towards women - the only authority is truth).

It is hard, although probably not impossible, to formalise a scientific method for spirituality. What I'm mainly suggesting is the approach to life, in all aspects of life which is the fundamental essence of spirituality anyway. 

It is hard to formalise because the teaching of Jesus is that all the interesting aspects of spirituality happen only with extraordinary love. 

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Discipline, Rules and the Law of God

"I'm a body with a brain, that's all I am. A physical being, a small part of everything."
"Woe to you teachers of the law". A familiar phrase for Christians. Woe to you who teach law. Woe to you who preach rules.

"Woe to you" is a curse, from Jesus. There will be woe.

Those who would make Christianity into a religion of rules (as has successfully been done for generations) want everyone else to be as dead inside as they are. This is why Jesus said of them:
You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.
If you think I'm wrong and my opinion annoys you, there is an easy remedy. Prove me wrong! Be more full of life, more loving, kinder and more alive than me. And I'll like it!

I want to learn from the alive, the loving, the giving. I won't learn from the dead though. Don't be dead, please. You don't have to.

In life, at the moment, I am mostly doing exactly as I please. This seems to be working out, I am stronger and more able to love than I have ever been. I do whatever I want because I trust myself and my motivations. I want to love more than anything else, so I am letting love change me and I am following my desires. And I care not a fig for your rules.

I believe in discipline and an objective law of God (my atheist friends can read this as objective moral law and have it still be relevant).

I discipline myself because I want mastery over myself. I do not think my beliefs mean I get to tell anyone else what to do, other than my children for whom I have a responsibility to keep them alive and healthy.

I meditate for an hour a day and I have done for at least six years. That takes discipline. I exercise twice a day during the week. I take Irina to school every morning and pick her up every evening. I fast (don't eat during the day) most Fridays. I am currently fasting from nicotine on weekdays.

I spent two years writing a published technical book. For six months I learned the self-defence art of Krav Maga so I could learn to channel and control my own aggression without it controlling me.

These are all things that require self-discipline. I am in control of myself and am inexorably gaining more control. One of my current little maxims:
First get a tight grip on yourself, and then let go. Keep doing that. That's the path.
In order to genuinely be able to abandon who you are, your life and personality, to love you have to be in control of yourself and know yourself - but you also have to be able to let go.

I believe that the law of God, ultimate moral law, is love. Nothing less and certainly nothing more. For armchair theologians this seems to have been a viewpoint shared by Jesus, Paul, John & James.
Love is the law, love under will.
The standard is not relative, it is not relativism. The standard is utterly pure love. Utterly. That's the line.

I so admire single minded people who relentlessly pursue what they want. It can make you into an awful person to be around, but it can make you shine so brightly. A soul that shines like the glare from a polished steel blade. Sharp, effective, dangerous.

The good news is that it doesn't have to make you into an awful person. Well at least I hope so anyway... My intention is to pursue that utterly pure love with everything in me.

Love doesn't tell people what to do. Love transforms us so we want to do good things. Love does not tell us what to do.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Nicotine, Physical Awareness and Singing Lessons

I'm a body with a brain, that's all I am. A physical being, a small part of everything.
I've never been a very physically aware person. From a young age it was clear that I wasn't very physically gifted but that I had an extraordinary mind, so I devoted all my psychological energy into academic achievement and understanding - at the cost of empathy, social understanding and physical awareness. I focused on what I knew I could be good at and ignored the things I found difficult.

It turned out this wasn't a particularly good life strategy and a very painful decade, directed by some unfortunate external experiences and a great deal of very bad personal choices in the light of those experiences, forced me to learn empathy and character strength.

One of the things that surprised me about mindfulness meditation (an exercise of the psyche) was that it forced me to start to become more physically aware. In order to bring full focused attention to the breath I have to deliberately relax my body, including letting go of tension that I just hadn't been aware of. A very nice side effect. I've been doing an hour of mindfulness a day for five years or more now.

However, what I live for, what drives my life, my centre and my all, is to worship. I worship with passion and fury, an expression and adoration of wild love.

And because it's the centre of my life, I thought it would be nice to train myself to do it better, to become more skillful at worship. This is why I started singing lessons.

Perhaps obvious in retrospect, but it still came as a surprise to me, is that vocal training has required a new dimension in physical awareness too. Particularly singing at the higher end of my register requires me to consciously hold my body core (stomach, back and chest muscles) in tension in order to be able to reach and hold the higher notes with any precision. It also requires an awareness of posture and breathing. This is a journey I'm at the start of, but one I'm really enjoying.

On the topic of body awareness,  I've just completed a week with no nicotine at all. I missed vaping, but being constantly aware of the "need" for nicotine (the physical addiction) made it clear to me that I don't want to live any longer under "compulsion" to use nicotine (which is what addiction is).

However, I do like vaping and nicotine is a mental and cognitive stimulant that I appreciate. Nicotine itself, although addictive, is not classified as a carcinogen. Any residual health risk from vaping comes from the flavourings not the nicotine.

So I am going to try and find a way forward that lets me enjoy vaping without the compulsion. I'm not entirely sure how to do that. My current thinking is that I will vape at weekends and not during the week. I'm going to see if I can make that work without kidding myself and without slipping back into constant use. I'll probably try it for a month and see how it works out.

Dialogue with my body: I like you, now do what you're told. Tell me what I need to provide, and do, for you to be able to obey me. I listen.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

The Problem of Evil and Jacob Böhme

"Woe to you who teach law, who preach rules"

Conventional Christianity does not have an acceptable answer to the problem of evil. 

Typical Christian doctrine attributes evil to the fall of man and the devil, a consequence of Satan's hubris and a deceived humanity's free will. This current travail is therefore a consequence of a fallen creation. But, we are working towards the dawning of the New Age where Christ returns and creation is perfected with no possibility of sin and evil.

So, if that state of nature is possible, a perfect creation with no possibility of sin and evil, why did the all powerful creator God not start with that? Why go through all this awful horror and pain to get there? Conventional Christian doctrine offers no real answer to this beyond the "ineffable" (or inexcusable as some may say...) will of God. 

When Christians pretend to have all the answers people tend to see right through them.

Recently a dear friend told me about a German Christian mystic who used alchemical terms for his writing, and was therefore (and still is) seen as a terrible heretic. This, naturally, intrigued me a great deal.
The mystic in question is Jakob Böhme:
Jakob Böhme was a German Christian mystic and theologian. He was considered an original thinker by many of his contemporaries within the Lutheran tradition, and his first book, commonly known as Aurora, caused a great scandal.
So my thinking on sin, evil and the cross has been around this "current travail" as being the birth pangs of humanity and indeed the whole universe. Something necessary. Some of my flirting with ideas like this can be seen in "Goodness out of Chaos".

So this passage on the theology of Böhme particularly resonates with me:
Böhme saw the incarnation of Christ not as a sacrificial offering to cancel out human sins, but as an offering of love for humanity, showing God's willingness to bear the suffering that had been a necessary aspect of creation. He also believed the incarnation of Christ conveyed the message that a new state of harmony is possible.
Is it heresy? My confession is that I really don't care. Heresy is not something I care about. It's a made up concept to scare people into doing what they're told. Is that passage above real, is it true, is it helpful? Those are the questions I care about. 

I don't know the answers but it's definitely interesting to think about.
"Dogma is not an attitude capable of finding truth. It chooses to be blind and is therefore always wrong."

Thursday, 10 November 2016

An Evolutionary Spirituality: Goodness out of Chaos

"No fate but what we make" -- Sarah Connor, Terminator
The ideas in this article are an attempt to reconcile science, psychology, religion and philosophy. A lofty, perhaps too lofty, goal and an extension of the ideas I was reaching  for in "Evolutionary Spirituality: A Personal God".

Modern physics tells us that uncertainty and chaos are fundamental properties of the universe we inhabit. Evolution tells us that, in regards to life, change is driven by randomness. Specifically changes are the result of random mutations. Which changes persist is not random, but the driving mechanism is random and chaotic. Evolutionary biologists will tell you that success, fitness, is not "progress" (which they would say is an illusion) merely the accumulation of random changes that are more fit to survive in specific environments and circumstances.

Yet given the arc of history (and human culture as part of history) it looks and feels like progress is being made. I think the reason for this is that on average, what we see as more "progressed" (more complex, capable of rationality etc) is likely to be more successful. On average, given enough time more advanced life and better ideas will arrive and if they occupy the same niche will push out lower lifeforms or worse ideas.

So in that sense, even driven by the "raw material" (the natural law) of chaos and randomness, progress can be seen as inevitable. Nature tries every possible combination and permutation randomly, which is why life on this planet is so diverse and so downright weird in places. Nearly everything you can imagine has been tried somewhere in history. It's also why just about every oddity of belief, idea, perversion and strangeness of character can be found somewhere in humanity. But on average, the "good" ideas are "better" (more fit, more advantageous) and gradually replace "worse" ideas. On average, good wins.

Here's where it gets interesting and we can draw from Descartes ontological argument, perhaps slightly modified. We are psychological beings - all our experience is mediated through and exists in our psyche. We are our psyche. The best possible idea, is pure unadulterated love that is for us and through us. If humanity is capable of experiencing this - if a love this strong and pure is something that could dwell within the psyche of humanity (and ecstatic experiences from all faiths and no faith say that it is) then it is the very best possible idea. And therefore, over enough time, that idea will win. Not "the idea of God" (which is almost entirely the problem of modern Christianity), but the psychological reality of pure love.

And if, as Jung suggested and developmental psychology also suggests based on the way our psyche forms, our psyches are connected (compare this with Indra's Net from Hindu mythology which I reference in "Soul Healing: Empathy") - then that idea, the reality of pure love, can dwell amongst us. And that's an even better idea!

And then leaping off the diving board altogether, what if (as religions like Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity from a certain perspective) consciousness is connected to physical reality - even perhaps forms what we experience as physical reality (which quantum physics perhaps obliquely hints at in the role it ascribes to "the observer"). Then not only can that idea, infinite love, dwell within the collective psyche of humanity - but it can dwell in and inhabit and shape the whole universe.

Of course I can't demonstrate that. It's merely a nice idea, perhaps even a good idea.

Another way to see it would be that believing and knowing the power of love, as healing and transforming, is therefore a mind virus trying to make you believe in God. And, as a good atheist, love must therefore be opposed at every turn... Personally speaking, I think this would be a bad idea.

What I really like about this, is that it allows the raw material of the universe, the base natural law, to be chaos and randomness and still produce goodness. Merely because love wins. It's simply a better idea than evil.Out of nothingness, perfect goodness can arise. Slowly. Just because it's the best possible idea - and the universe has been gradually trying them all out. It would be nice to be able to prove it rather than merely hypothethise about. The only theory worth a damn is the theory of the practise.

This way of thinking offers an explanation for evil, which Christianity lacks, at the cost of implying that God is evolving - something that really doesn't sit well with traditional Christianity at all. And if our psyches are formed by and in contact with other psyches, then other people "live in us" (our life is formed partially from their life), so other people live on in us even after the physical body dies. All we are is the product of all that has been before. Again, veering into the outlandish but kind of reassuring nonetheless. Who we are persists through what we do; specifically the way we touch and form other lives around us.

For what it's worth, for reasons rooted in the experiences of my past, I enjoy calling that raw chaotic creative potential of the universe "psychedelic reality". It expresses itself and is "formed" (given shape) through consciousness. Well, maybe anyway.

Humanity is merely an expression of the universe and culture an expression of humanity. The universe expresses itself through human culture.

Magnificent Woman

Life is so much more fun when you master your desires.
So, this is probably highly sexist but it's a small peak into the inner workings of my strange psyche. Sorry.

I notice that I have certain "labels" that I use to express how I feel about certain people, and I do this much more frequently for women than I do for men. I don't really know why but I don't *think* it's a particularly bad thing. I mention this now because whilst meditating I just thought of a new one and a handful of women it applies to (names withheld to protect the magnificent).

Here are the labels I use (obviously a one dimensional summation of someone's character, a gross generalisation of any individual and all generalisations are wrong):
  • A good person (speaks for itself)
  • A capable person (implies good but adds skill and capacity for getting things done)
  • An impressive person (implies capable but with great skill or capacity)
  • A formidable person (implies impressive but with a stronger element of fierceness)
  • A magnificent person
One of my greatest joys of the last few years (late to the party I know) is that I'm now able to appreciate and enjoy formidable women. I used to be scared of them, but now I'm not. Heck, I love them, even if we argue sometimes. It takes a bit of fierceness to get things done sometimes.

So hurrah for formidable women, especially if you can help undo some of the horrible mess the men have been making of things.

And as for magnificent women. Well.

Love is not weak. Love is strong and love is fierce.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Stop Searching for God

To be able to love people, what a delight and a privilege
God is love. Love is all around us. That's God! Stop searching for God and search for love. And bam, there he is. Everywhere! So close. He was there all the time. In everyone you meet.

In the love of a mother for her children, in your family. So love love. Worship love. Adore love. Love the love of your friends, love the love of your family. Hold it as sacred and precious. That's God! And when you love love, it grows! And the darkness simply cannot hold.

And fuck other people's rules, other people's ideas of what you have to do to know God. Fuck it all. Just love love.

I'm a bit hard to cope with, so full of intensity. I salute those who manage to get close, I love you all! With a fierce and passionate love if you'll let me.

God wants us to be happy. Unhappiness is not his plan. But you don't find lasting happiness by searching for it. Pleasure, happiness and certainty - none of these things do you find, in their fullness, by seeking them. They're all the side-effects of a life set on finding God and truth and pushing aside all else.

And we don't find God in other people's ideas. We don't find God in doctrine, we don't even find God in the bible. These things point us in the right direction (maybe). But the danger is, and the biggest problem with modern Christianity, is that we hold fast to an "idea of God". We believe in our idea, we harden our minds as much as we can to really believe in our idea no matter how things seem. We're willing to reject reality if it conflicts with what we're trying to believe in. And that just isn't the same thing as actually knowing God.

(Note, it's clearly more nuanced than this - God clearly speaks through people, through ideas and through the bible. But my point stands.)

Don't take anything I say too seriously, take what you can from it. Feel free to disagree with me. Always think for yourself. There's no other path that works anyway.
 In the kingdom of heaven everyone does what they want.
Enjoy life, enjoy love, do your best to help. Test all new ideas and experiences in the light of what you already know, and always be willing to be wrong. Hold  your beliefs lightly. Reality doesn't need us to believe in it. We can happily interact with reality, even learn to trust it, without having to believe anything.
Do what you want, believe what you want, think what you want, be what you want. But love, and learn to love with every fibre of strength you can muster.
The idea that faith is the same thing as certainty is another big mistake of modern Christianity. Nothing in life is certain and the only thing we really know is that we don't know anything. Not really. Faith is an ability to trust. The measure of your faith is the measure of your capacity to trust even what you're not certain of.

The kingdom of heaven is like buried treasure. If you're not engaged in a furious search then you haven't really found it. Life has to be a struggle for truth, a struggle for meaning. There's no other way. (A challenging idea for Christians, we only have the measure of the kingdom amongst us in the same measure as we have the reality of the substance of Jesus amongst us.) Let's work it out together.

And if you're concerned about potentially leading other people into error, teach them to think for themselves, to check their beliefs against reality and not to believe anything just because you say it. Haven't we had enough experience to know that "doctrinal error" is not the biggest problem we face, why are we so afraid of making mistakes? The only thing that matters is that the love amongst us is real, deep and strong. We can work everything else out from there.

So how did "the church" end up where we are now? The sweep of history, the wide arc bringing us to where we are today. (Another challenging idea for Christians; would it come as a surprise if I said that the church of Jesus and what we call church are different, but hopefully overlapping, things? By the way, to my mind a good definition of "church" is "the operational wing of the kingdom".)

For centuries, since 300AD (or so) when Christianity became a state religion and therefore a means of power, Christianity has been a tool of control and oppression. Traditional doctrine has been shaped by that. Evangelical Christianity, which began in love in the house church movement of the seventies alongside the hippie movement, was God breaking out of that. It's interesting to note that most of the old hippies are just as disappointed with the way things have gone as evangelicals who were around when the charismatic movement began.

But (my belief) is that evangelicalism is largely dead and fake now (and often awful - with many exceptions of course). Evangelicalism settles for so little yet claims it has so much. Progressive Christianity, with its focus on "only love", is a genuine new movement of love though. And God is so much in that.

There were certainly beautiful aspects of Christianity along the way though. The Christian mystics, the Christian ethic that prompted Wilberforce to abolish slavery, the foundation of hospitals and charities by Christianity. History, reality and people are complex. Much of western liberalism owes a heritage to Christianity, not that it would ever admit it!

So what about evangelism and saving souls? Oh people need saving alright, so lost, so hurting. People live in such small dark worlds, full of fear. Unfortunately that includes many Christians, they think the world is dark and doomed! They need saving into the light!

The only thing that works is love. Focus always on loving people, not "saving" them. When you do, people start to believe again (or more) in love. And you know what, I don't think it even matters whether they think they believe in God or not. If you believe in love, in the power of love then you believe in God whether you know it or not. What matters is not what you think you know with your head, but what you really find with your heart.

And when people believe in love that means they believe in God! In Jesus who is God and who is love. If your love is strong enough, different enough, or just because they love you, they'll ask about your faith. I have so many conversations about my faith and I start almost none of them. "Preach the gospel at all times, use words if necessary".

Love saves. Go around loving people!

Much of this post was inspired by a conversation with my beautiful friend Nathan Britten

I don't want to argue, I just want to dance.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Soul Healing Part II: Empathy

"Love's heart breaks. Love's heart bleeds. Love's heart even dies, yet lives."
In "Soul Healing" I looked at the process of soul healing (finding psychological wholeness) for the individual; allowing your personality to "unfold" through a determination to face yourself. In this article I explore the edges of some "technical" aspects (practical techniques) for bringing soul healing to others.

Being able to help one another psychologically is one of the promises of faith. Bringing soul healing is a great confirmation of the reality of our faith, "Crossing the Soul Gap" as I term it, but also potentially a beautiful way of being able to make a positive difference to people's lives, always treading carefully of course.

I'd like to discuss two aspects of soul healing, and they're both based on empathy. These techniques have at their heart "just being a decent human being". The motivation must always be genuine love, it can only work within a relationship of trust, and you never go anywhere uninvited. All of this is easier said than done.

To explain the first aspect of healing that I'd like to explore it's worth taking a minute to understand what empathy in action is. This is something that I think that women are largely better at than men, mostly but probably-not-entirely because of the very different social pressures women are under. In general women are socialised to care more, and to think less of themselves for it. Empathy isn't something that only women do though, and it isn't magic; empathy is an innate part of what it means to be human.

Empathy is an ability to feel what other people are feeling, to really understand what they mean, to hear the heart. In practise you demonstrate empathy when someone is speaking by "reflecting back" their emotions to them. When they say they feel sad you reflect back at them the sadness that you feel in them and they can see that you understand. This is different from merely telling people you understand, it is emotionally proving that you understand. Empathy is clear sight, and when you observe someone's real feelings, however gently, you touch them.

Reflection, or mirroring, is a key technique in psychotherapy by the way. Reflecting back what people say, perhaps in different words, so people can see themselves and then giving them the space to deal with this.

Mirroring, as well as being the basic element of genuine human relationship, can be extremely powerful If we can find the beauty in another person, and there is beauty in everyone, and reflect it back to them then they can see that they are beautiful. This helps to unmake peoples' negative self-image. Life in general, particularly negative experiences, lie to us about what we're really like. We build up a negative self-image, a belief that we're ugly or worthless for example or that our past mistakes determine what we'll be like in the future, and this shapes our experience of life. If we can see that it's not true, if we can see the beauty that's genuinely inside each of us, then the lie starts to fall away. So actively seek out the beauty in people and seek to reflect it back to them. Aim to prove to people that they are beautiful and have value.

I have a maxim about love along these lines:
Find the love in people and love it. When you do you'll find this is their true nature and you're loving them.
Unfortunately we often reflect people's negative self-image back to them, which reinforces it. This idea that much of our personality is (or can be) based on what we see of ourselves reflected from other people reminds me of a beautiful metaphor from Hindu mythology; Indra's net.
Our shared reality is an infinite connected net. At every join is a gem that reflects every other gem. We are the gems.
If you're careful you can observe this facet of human nature behaviourally. You can see how we use each other as "mirrors" to see ourselves - judging ourselves, particularly our appearance and how we come across, by how people respond to us.

This also hints at some of the mystery of how our psyches may be connected. That's a topic worthy of more exploration if it can be demonstrated and not merely hypothethised about.
The only theory worth a damn is the theory of the practise.
Our self-image, inextricably intertwined with our world view, is our "ego". Transcendent experiences, ecstatic spiritual experiences, involve going beyond the ego. So in a sense all of our self-image needs to be unmade ("I am a new creation"), but a good self-image and a bright (positive) world view are useful tools, they are the essence of what psychological health means.

The second aspect of soul healing I'm interested in is sharing in people's pain. This is also based on empathy, and it is something we all do instinctively as we listen to the problems and difficulties of someone we care about. Sharing people's pain is the natural response of love. I think we can do it more intentionally and more powerfully. We can learn to love more effectively.

If someone trusts you, and you have genuine love for them, then you will be able to feel their sadness and their inner pain. We all have inner pain, everyone hurts. We're all slightly broken. This isn't as bad a thing as it sounds; an inner pain is the engine of empathy. Because you hurt, because you've felt alone, you can understand and love those who hurt and feel alone. The key thing is to not be afraid of the pain. The more you're able to face your own inner pain without turning, the more you can face it in other people too.

If, within a relationship of love, you can reflect someone's pain back at them then it will resonate with them. They then have a choice whether to retreat or open up. This is why you proceed carefully, and only with permission. If someone is uncomfortable with this, you STOP. Inner pain is extremely intimate, you start gently being mindful of people's response. Only if they trust you will they open up and let you share their pain. If you get there, if you can share in another person's pain and show them that you're not afraid of it then you help them to bear that pain. They also may even be able to let go, to stop holding on, pushing it down, and that is an element of freedom. Underneath the pain is a part of them, a part of their personality usually bound up in unpleasant and difficult memories. If they can face the pain of it and let go, then a part of them is freed, they no longer have to reject themselves because they're no longer afraid of that aspect of themselves. This is obviously a process, it can take a long time to get there and maybe many times to get to the root of an issue. But this I'm sure is the basic idea.
The only way any of us can bear it is if we hurt for each other.
In Christian terms, when we share in the pain of another person we actively participate in the wounds of Christ. This is the suffering of love.

Of course the important thing with these ideas is not the ideas themselves, but to prove that they work. That, I suspect, will be my journey for the next several years.

Tremendous gentleness requires tremendous stillness, which requires tremendous strength. Gentleness is the real face of strength, hardness is the lie.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Dancing With The Other Foot

"Heaven rages like the dawn"

From time to time I like to see things from a different point of view, I think it's very unhealthy to only live inside a single worldview and be unable to understand how other people think and see the world.

For a brief time, for about two years twenty years or so ago when I was at university, I was an atheist. A few years later one of the most precious times in my life was working in London with a group of wonderful people, most of whom were thoughtful and loving atheists. I feel like I understand the atheist mindset, and it's a point of view I have a lot of sympathy with. Atheism is one perfectly rational and reasonable response to this messy world that seems to be ruled by consistent (if chaotic) physical laws. My own personal experiences have led me to a different worldview but I don't blame anyone for coming to different conclusions. Something I love about new atheism (I don't love everything about it) is its fierce rationality, its refusal to be duped. "Prove it then" is a perfectly reasonable thing to say. Rational scepticism is a very useful approach to life, and the extraordinary marvel of modern science (and medicine) is part of the outcome.

Many other friends of mine have an active spirituality but are very uncomfortable with the male-centric approach of Christianity to divinity, particularly in the context of all the damage that men have done and continue to do in the world. This is a point of view I also have sympathy for and I have no problem with the concept of "Mother God". A mother's love is the most powerful force in nature and there are few clearer examples of sacrificial, self-giving love than the love of a mother for her children. The female is clearly in even the traditional Christian God:
Genesis 1:27 So God created human beings in his own image.In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
So in that vein, here's an ode to the Goddess. It's in the form of prose, but it's my blog, so I get to call it an ode.

The goddess is love. Her love is bountiful goodness, there is nothing better, no other goodness. So let us venerate love as holy and sacred. The love we find for each other is holy and pure as she is pure. Revere and respect the love of your friends and family, abandon yourselves to a wild adoration of love wherever you find it.

And the very best thing of all, when you love love she grows. Bow to love wherever you meet her, in all persons and all things.

Love is rising and the darkness cannot hold.
The Father is a very real, and very beautiful, aspect of God. But if God created women in his image, then the feminine is in God to.

"Mother God" is a phrase to strike terror into the heart of conservative Christianity. So sad. The life giver, the carer, the nurturer. The one who binds our wounds. The passionate one.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Objective Value in Art

"Art is like a joke: if you have to explain it then it sucks"

I recently visited the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao and got embroiled in a conversation on the value of art, and in particular the value of modern art. This is an age old question, and more specifically this question: does art have (can art have) objective value, or is its value purely subjective? Surely the value of art resides in the effect (the affect) it has on the observer, so the value of art is by very nature a subjective thing.

Art has value if it produces a worthwhile affect (including whether or not we like it), if it moves (or resonates) emotionally with the viewer, if it stimulates the viewer to intellectual thought, or if the art provides some commentary on society, humanity or the world around us (does the art "speak to us"). Modern art attempts to do this in abstraction, by removing recognisable representation of the world it can (potentially) speak to a deeper part of us than merely the conscious and rational mind. Abstraction can (in theory) evoke primal feelings and thought patterns we aren't even aware are part of us.

Artists have, with the collusion of museums, placed literally "random trash" on display - with the apparent argument that the emotional response created, the thought processes stimulated, provide the value in such artwork. But if the value in art is the affect on the viewers (possibly a big if) then this is something we can determine. The artistic skill, and therefore to some extent, the artistic merit in any piece of art is the ability of that art to create a response beyond the response created by something that took no artistic skill. It is likely that there is some value in people going to museums and engaging with themselves as they view artwork - this is the value in viewing "random trash" and perceiving how that affects them and what commentary it makes on society. We can use "random crap in a frame" (or random blobs on a canvas), art that takes no artistic skill to create, as control art. Art only takes genuine artistic skill, has objective value beyond the subjective response that a person creates for themself, if on average it tends to create a stronger response than work that takes no skill to produce.

So here's an experiment I'd love to see, from any modern artist brave enough to test if their work has objective artistic merit. Create a piece of art using as little skill as possible, in as short a time as possible, say "random crap in a frame". Show viewers this piece of art along with a "genuine" piece of art and ask viewers to report their response to engaging with both pieces of art (in a blind test of course - the viewers don't know which piece of art is real). The response can be measured in various axes including emotional connection, appreciation (how much the viewers like the art) and intellectual stimulation. If the "genuine" art has real artistic merit then it should produce a measurably stronger response, on average when shown to enough viewers to produce a statistically significant result, than "random crap". Then we could really know whether or not the emperor is wearing any clothes... The random crap provides the control for the baseline response to being in a museum or art gallery and having to think about art, the subjective part of the experience.

This has lots of caveats of course, some genuine and some not. It maybe that the work of any individual artist is produced from a particular cultural context and only really speaks to, resonates with, people who have (or understand) that cultural context. This could very well be true, but whilst it means that the art may have been significant it also means that the art hasn't stood the test of time and is perhaps no longer significant. The claim of the artistic community may also be that modern art in particular takes particular depth and understanding to engage with - that only people who "get it" will respond to it. This claim that "we speak a different language to you" smacks of elitism (and bullshit) to me, in particular because it's unfalsifiable and actually indistinguishable from genuine bullshit. Meaning it probably is bullshit. At the very best it means the art is inaccessible and impenetrable, not qualities of "good art".

There could also be other flaws with any particular implementation of this experiment. If the "genuine art" is recognisable to any portion of the audience this will skew the result, the genuine art should also be of a similar "type" to the "crap art" so that any prejudice against modern art applies equally to both pieces.

A further criticsim could be that everything comes with cultural context. Even random crap that appears to have taken no effort to produce is a product of the time and culture of the person making it. I would hope that it's still clear that a good artist is one that can elevate us beyond the "mere average" of our current cultural context, and produce something that evokes a deeper response. If the skill of an artist is to produce nothing beyond what our current age provides for free, with no skill involved, then that artist can hardly claim artistic merit of their own.

So art can have objective value, value beyond the subjective response of any individual to that art. And potentially we can explore and know that value.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Soul, spirit and will

Watchman Nee described humans as "tripartite", consisting of spirit, soul and body.

This is a particular framing of the human condition, a way of thinking about and understanding ourselves. There are many other alternative (or complementary) ways of framing the human psyche: Freudian psychology, Myers-Briggs, the four humors and so on. Their value is in how useful they are, do they help us understand ourselves? Any particular framing may be more or less useful than another, at best they're all approximations of the truth rather than "truth" themselves.

The division of psyche into soul and spirit is an understanding I find genuinely useful. Your spirit is who you really are. You are a living spirit, you have a soul. To understand that things like memories and emotion are part of us, but they don't define us both helps explain who we are and can be freeing. Your memories, your past, don't have to define you - you have memories but they aren't "you". In pyschological speak the soul is closely related to the ego, your conception of who you are and your worldview. They colour your perceptions and shape you, but they aren't you.

Watchman Nee puts "will" as something of the soul. In my search to understand myself and the world (we're so intimately connected to the world - indeed we're the product of the world) I've come to the conclusion that this isn't the most useful understanding.

Will is our capacity (ability) to effect change. I don't think will is a separate thing in itself, it isn't a "region of our soul". The strength of will you can exert in any situation is how much of yourself can you bring to bear on it. How freed are you? So, in fact will is spirit - it's merely a way of describing spirit (who you are) as a force of action (rather than being).

The more natural (more common) situation, and the one faced by us all, is that our spirit is submerged in our soul. Who we are is buried in our habits, routines, memories and aspirations. We tend to live in the past or the future rather than the present. So the task of developing a strong will, a strong capacity for action and change, is to free who we are from the grip of our soul. To divide between soul and spirit.

Tangentially I think a similar thing is true of conscience. Conscience also doesn't seem to be a particular "region" of who we are, but as we are more aware of goodness we will be more sensitive to not doing bad things. Conscience is a description of the right operation of spirit, rather than a thing in itself.

Our daily experience of what we think of as conscience however is likely to be different this. There is a "counterfeit" conscience, a conscience of the soul, which pyschologists call the "super-ego". This is a part of the ego and is your idealised conception of self, the you that you think you ought to be. Guilt and shame often come from the promptings of the super-ego telling us that we're not living up to what we think we should be. Discerning between our real sense of how to live and the prattling of the super-ego is the same task of discerning between soul and spirit, and is the journey of a lifetime.

Talking of spirit raises the interesting question of what is spirituality? In popular opinion it's a word with no real meaning at all, and even amongst Christians there's a very hazy understanding of what it might mean. My current thinking is that spirituality and goodness are two different axes. You can be good without being spiritual and spiritual without being good. Best of all of course is to be both.

Goodness is to love.

Spirituality is self-awareness and understanding (and therefore understanding of the world around us). Spirit is who we are, and spirituality is "of the spirit", so we are more in touch with ourselves we are more "spiritual". There are some outward signs of this, freedom and an ability to flow, that can be superficial and mistaken for a genuine spirituality. As with everything the search is for real depth, in spirit and in truth.

“Each must become God-like and beautiful who cares to see God and Beauty” -- Plotinus

It's alright to be you

There has been a lot of exploration and rediscovery of God as father in my church recently. I've had my own experience of this and, as the cliche goes, it came through observing my own children.

A few days ago I was at the dentist and standing outside watching my son, Benjamin, bimble around. I know my son, who is just over one years old, and I know that his heart is full of malevolence. I know just how wilful and naughty he is, just how much of a handful he is going to be in the coming years.

Despite knowing all of this I delight in him. Watching him potter around fills me with delight, the mere fact that he exists makes me happy. I love him just as he is, just for being him.

It struck me that this is what it means that God delights in his children. I often experience God as love, as a fierce and strong love, but to feel personally loved by God is a bit different. I've often suspected that although I know God loves me, really he loves some perfected version of me - loves what I can be, or perhaps just the good bits of me. As I watched Benjamin I realised that God loves us, me, in the same way. We're God's children, and the mere fact that we exist fills him with delight. He's not waiting for us to become perfect before he loves us, he knows exactly what we like and he loves us. He loves us just as we are.

This moment of realisation has come alongside a deepening self-acceptance, a realisation that it's alright to be me. I can't be anyone else or anything else other than what I am. As much as I have failings and weaknesses, as much as I need and want to change, all I can be right now is what I am right now. God doesn't expect or demand us to be anything other than what we are. Sure we need to change, but that's all in his hands too. God loves us, takes delight in us, just as we are. Just for being us.

The more I explore who I am the more convinced I am that guilt and shame are the power of sin. The danger is that because we know how far from what we could be we are that we think we're supposed  to feel bad about it. The very opposite is true! Forgiveness means that we don't have to feel bad about who we are or what we've done. The past and the dark parts of our nature are all dealt with, God doesn't hold them against us. This is the central theme, the whole point, of Christianity. Yes we need to face the reality of who we are, take responsibility for who we are and deal with the consequences of anything we've done, but we don't need to feel bad about it.

Perhaps one of the hardest of ironies of life is that it's only as we're able to accept ourselves as we are that we're able to change. It's only as we can face what we are, our memories and the past, without flinching that we can let go of it and it loses its hold on us. Memories don't disappear, but the power they hold over us can. Guilt and shame are what stop us facing who we are, but we can choose to let go and refuse to feel bad about who we are.

It's alright to be me and it's alright to be you.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

A Varied Life

I've been homeless, in prison, at Cambridge university, worked at a London startup, been an atheist, lived in Christian community, travelled, written a book.

I've taken an extraordinary amount of drugs to the point of madness.

I've learned Tai Chi and meditation from a Buddhist community. Spent nearly a year in Romania living with Romanians.

I taught myself to program. I've spoken to an audience of thousands at conferences and been a keynote speaker in India and New Zealand. I've written code used by millions of software developers.

A varied life and I'm not done yet. And I'm still (more and more) convinced that the only thing worth a damn, the only thing to live for (more important than believing the right things) is to love.

But love fiercely.

Friday, 13 May 2016

A Biblical Worldview

The substance of Christianity has to be knowing God, otherwise our faith is nothing more than dead religion. As the bible is our only record of the life and teaching of Jesus it is rightly seen as the foundation of Christianity. Exactly what role to give to the bible, and how to understand it, can however be contentious topics, not least because views on this topic are very personal and deeply held.

For many Christians their faith requires a "bibilical worldview", seeing and understanding the world through the lens of scriptural teaching. A friend of mine recently posted a link to an article by Pastor Rick Warren on this very topic to facebook:
Here's a quote from the article:
Everyone thinks about the world through a particular lens, or filter. We refer to this filter as someone’s “worldview.” And in our post-Christian culture, most Christians have a non-Christian worldview. In other words, a big part of our preaching assignment is helping our listeners to see the world through the lens of a biblical worldview.
There are some useful things that stand as a foundation on the topic of what we mean by "scriptural truth" and a "biblical worldview". What is understood by the term "biblical worldview" has changed drastically over the generations.

For many centuries owning slaves was seen as part of a biblical worldview, supported by both old testament and new testament. Similarly forbidding women from speaking (or playing any role) in church was seen as part of a biblical worldview (again supported by the new testament). Neither of these are part of what most people nowadays mean by "a biblical worldview" now. Forbidding interracial marriage was also espoused by the church in many places, as part of a biblical worldview, not so long ago too! The remarrying of divorcees was grounds for expulsion from the church, as part of a biblical worldview, in most churches until recently.

For a long time a biblical worldview also meant believing that the earth was the centre of the universe and that the sun went round the earth.

This leads us to several important conclusions:
  1. The general understanding amongst Christians of what a biblical worldview means is not a fixed immutable truth but a fluid set of views that have changed and are changing.
  2. What "a biblical worldview" actually means is generally "a specific set of interpretations of the bible" (and any two people rarely agree fully on all the details). 
  3. The fundamentals of what would currently be called "a biblical worldview" has been shaped by several major cultural shifts over the last few centuries, including scientific progress.
  4. What we currently understand as a "biblical worldview" is unlikely to be the same set of views held by the next generation or the ones that follow. In fact elements of our current views may well be seen as abhorrent by later generations, as we see those who supported slavery.
  5. So opposing any cultural shift because it disagrees with what you see as your "biblical world view" may well be a mistake! We can't get away from having to know the heart of God (lean not on your own understanding).
Instead of striving for a "biblical worldview" I'd like to see us work to drop "worldviews" altogether and honestly search for reality as it really is instead of looking to confirm what we've already decided. That is much harder and takes real courage as we are likely to find that God isn't confined to the boxes we assign him to.

Confirmation bias, the tendency of humans to only see the parts of reality that confirm what they already believe and ignore things that contradict it, is so strong and pernicious that seeing beyond our own fallibility and really finding truth has to be a real struggle. If we're not willing to undertake this struggle the chances are we will find an idea of God, rather than the reality of God. We can't find the depths of the substance of knowing God that we long for unless we're willing to take this journey. If we want the new thing we must be willing to think and act in new ways.

This is partly the theme of my "Exploration of the Heart" article on the forward blog. Christianity only works when it's a search of the heart:
This is partly what I think Jesus meant by coming to him like a child. Children haven't built up all the filters and lens that we view the world through, but are much more open to seeing and expressing life as it really is, both for good and for bad.

This has practical consequences for my relationship with God. Coming to God, in prayer or worship, usually starts with me acknowledging that I know nothing. As I come to God I drop everything I think I know or understand, because in the presence of God it's nothing. I reach out for the reality of God, of love, determined to face reality whatever it might be mind be and however it might (or might not) conflict with what I already think I know. And yes that means I might be wrong, about anything or everything, but my understanding is growing - and generally by evolution rather than revolution. But it's a heart led search for meaning, what am I actually finding in God, in me and in life.

On how to understand the bible, alongside what we've found of God and how we see the world, I really like the work of Steve Chalke. In his work "Restoring Confidence in the Bible" he argues that the bible is the record of the revelation of the nature of God to humanity. A process of revelation that didn't just stop 2000 years ago. This means letting go of the idea that the bible is infallible (something the bible itself never claims), and having to wrestle for meaning and truth. Along the way we can still revere the incredible truths within the bible without having to do mental gymnastics to explain away the parts that we don't really follow.

Whatever path you take, enjoy the exploration and plunge heart first into the living word of God!

See also my (short) article Biblical Truth and Doctrine for related musings on this topic.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Forward Blog: Childlike Faith

The Jesus Army "Forward Blog" published an article of mine on finding childlike faith:
It’s been said that the longest journey is the distance from head to heart. Actually I think this is wrong, it’s quite a short distance; but the road only goes one way and it’s in the other direction. Christianity, our faith, is an exploration of the heart not the head. God is love, so how could it be anything else. The head can understand what the heart finds, and it can guide the search, but you just can’t make your heart believe what the mind thinks unless you really find it.

If our faith is based mainly on what we know, God can seem small and distant. No matter how powerful and amazing God is in our minds, when we pray it’s to the God of our heart. If what we’ve found of God is small, if our faith is small, then God seems far away.

It's been said that the longest journey is the distance from head to heart. Actually I think this is wrong, it’s quite a short distance; but the road only goes one way and it’s in the other direction. Christianity, our faith, is an exploration of the heart not the head. God is love, so how could it be anything else. The head can understand what the heart finds, and it can guide the search, but you just can’t make your heart believe what the mind thinks unless you really find it.
If our faith is based mainly on what we know, God can seem small and distant. No matter how powerful and amazing God is in our minds, when we pray it’s to the God of our heart. If what we’ve found of God is small, if our faith is small, then God seems far away.
That’s perhaps very depressing, if merely stuffing more knowledge into our heads doesn’t work then what does? If trying to work up an enthusiasm for what we think we know, what we say we believe, isn’t going to get us there, then what can?
Thankfully, Jesus gave us the answer. Jesus said that the hungry will be filled, the thirsty will find satisfaction. That wasn’t meant as consolation, it was Him showing us the way! As we dare to be hungry we’ll find that God doesn’t disappoint us, God isn’t disappointed in us and longs to pour out his life and spirit among us. God loves us. Really loves us. You and me. God wants us to be filled with His love to overflowing and the hungrier we get for His love the more it will happen. Jesus also said seek and you will find. As we reach out with our hearts, longing for God, we can be sure we will find Him.
I’ve long known that my faith is too complicated, I wanted that childlike faith that Jesus spoke of. In fact I would say I was working towards a childlike faith, something that amused my Christian friends. I often saw around me people with a blind faith in a very complicated God, who had lots of rules, and it didn’t seem to work. They weren’t overflowing with life.
My favourite passage of the bible, the one that for me sums up the reason and substance of my faith, is 1 John 4:7-12:
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”
I’ve spoken of this often recently, but I guess I’m slow on the uptake because the full impact of this scripture is still only gradually seeping in. Whilst meditating last week it suddenly struck me: I believe in love. I believe in love absolutely. I believe love heals, I believe love is worth living for, I believe there’s nothing else worth living for. I have faith in love, and God is love. And there it was, my childlike faith.
All of a sudden, I could see God in people. I hadn’t even really known what that meant before. Now I can see God at work all around me. Love is strong, love is everywhere, love is at work, and love wins.