Friday, 31 August 2007

Cwmdonkin Park, Swansea, Aug 07

Form and Substance

Thinking further about being in between churches at the moment and ‘visiting’, and struggling with an issue that has bothered me for some time. I know what and whom I believe, finding no problems with my faith as far as that goes. I am finding the whole churchgoing thing a problem however and think I may have put my finger on why.

There is a trend today toward the new, the innovative and much of what used to be ‘mainstream’ church is cast aside and considered ‘traditional’, as though it was merely form and lacked substance. This has resulted in a shallow church experience as people constantly seek God’s immanence through innovative and experimental worship but neglect God's established Word. My argument is that it is the form that gives shape to the substance and that the formless, liquid ambivalent experience that calls itself ‘church’ today is proven insubstantial for the very reason that it lacks form!

As an example, young people seem to have an ‘experience’ of God but haven’t the first idea about how to talk to him. They don’t know the thrill that a developed prayer vocabulary can give you when talking to God, often falling back on the old saw about the Spirit speaking for us when we run out of words (Romans 8:26). I observe that these days they run out of words because they had so few to begin with and, far from needing help from God's Holy Spirit, they need help from God's Holy Word to educate them in the profound language of prayer.

The names of God are not pressed into service, the exploits of God are not recounted, the declared purposes of God are not repeated, the prayers of God's people do not reflect the heart of God as revealed in Scripture.

Worse, when people come into church they are often disillusioned with the world but are often disappointed to find the world in the church! I think of the great cathedral builders who constructed edifices made to reflect the experience of stepping out of the kingdom of this world and stepping into the House of God. Is that our experience today? All too often the answer is no.

Monday, 20 August 2007

Fisherman's Cottages, Burry Port Harbour

September Dawn

Hollywood is about to release a film, September Dawn, depicting the infamous Mountain Meadows Massacre in which 120 settlers were slaughtered by mormonsa s they passed through Utah on the way to California. Michael Medved, the film critic, has written a scathing review in anticipation of the film's release (It seems more like a political/social opinion piece on the issue based on viewing trailers than a art review)

I found his comments and obsrvations interesting though somewhat puzzling and here are my own (less than unbiased) thoughts.

I have more than a little sympathy with Medved’s views regarding Hollywood. The centre of the American film industry has a very poor record when it comes to recreating and depicting ‘historical’ issues. You only have to consider films like Braveheart (a romping adventure with little more than a tenuous grip on its supposed historical context), The Patriot ( no doubt appealing to many a gun-toting modern patriot but fast and loose doesn’t begin to describe the way the history was handled) and UB 571 (a total fiction). Nevertheless, I am puzzled by some of the issues he raises.

He asks, “Why would Hollywood release a controversial feature film about alleged Mormon terrorists of 150 years ago while all but ignoring the dangerous Muslim terrorists of today.” I imagine for the same reason that God’s mouthpiece for the world, the Mormon prophet, avoids the subject of Islamic terrorism, i.e. it isn’t good for business. Medved is missing the big issues here. The world stands on the brink of political, ideological, not to say environmental disaster and what does the prophet have to say? “Aren’t our youth wonderful?” Don’t blame the Hollywood moguls for following his example! They have an eye on the bottom line as much as Hinckley, and with greater justification. After all, they are in the movie business and he is supposed to be in the prophecy business.

And how odd to read a Jew promoting a “that was then, this is now” agenda! The spirits of the self-vaunting Joseph Smith and the totalitarian Brigham Young still prevail in a church that recognises no authority outside its own hierarchy, will truck no opposition from without or within, will go to any lengths to manufacture its own history and image and which guards the reputation of its first leaders with the same zeal that the Kremlin guarded Lenin and Stalin and the People’s Party still guard that of Mao. The spirit of Mormonism has not changed in its fundamentals and so even 170 years later we need to know and understand its roots and the journey it has taken. And why should that be so very odd? Isn’t that what history is about? Whether Hollywood has done a good, even a fair job remains to be seen, but whether the job needs doing is surely not in doubt – lest we forget.

The Great [Mormon] Game

Some friends were discussing the place of Bruce McConkie's book Mormon Doctrine in Mormon thinking. It is very popular still yet has come in for criticism from both inside and outside the Mormon Church. It was observed, however, that Mormons have stayed shy of actually specifying where McConkey went wrong in his writing and theology. The key to understanding this is the observation that Mormons ‘regard these sources as authoritative’, i.e. the sources McConkie uses in the book.

People who have never been Mormons will be familiar with the verbal and intellectual contortions a Mormon will perform in order to avoid directly and specifically criticising an ‘authority’. They will readily admit that ‘our leaders are not perfect’ but will not concede a specific error – ‘rather than do so I would suffer my throat to be cut’.

Only when you have been a Mormon do you fully know with what glee the typical Mormon plays ‘the great game’. They relish the tabloid theology of McConkie and his progeny in FARMS and FAIR and, not unlike some Evangelical believers, anticipate that time when they will be vindicated and all dissenters sent to burn. Until that day they play the game with varying degrees of skill and aplomb, confident that every dissembling, disingenuous denial will be met that day with the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Truth is Mormons lie, often competently, frequently knowingly, to themselves as much as to you.

The problem Christians have with this is that so many have bought into the liberal postmodern agenda of this modern world. They have bought into relativism, liberalism, deconstructionism and any number of wacky ideas that make them question the evidence of their own senses. Because of this they can't accept what God has said about the lost, about those who worship false gods, about those for whom this world is infinitely more important than the next. They don't like to think ill of these nice guys and can't imagine they would lie let alone knowingly.

If they think this way then they don't see the urgency for reaching out to Mormons because they don't seem all that lost. But they lie, often competently, frequently knowingly, to themselves as much as to you. This is because they are lost and need to hear the gospel. The only ground we have in common with them is that we once were lost like them. Otherwise...

Monday, 13 August 2007

The Fall

The fall of Adam was not about sex since sex was part of the original plan, i.e. God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; (Ge.1:28)

It seems to me that the tree was figurative rather than real because the Bible is too sensible a book to come up with the fairytale idea of a tree whose fruit gives you knowledge. If the tree is figurative then the nature of the sin is not important, otherwise the Bible would tell us what the sin was. In which case it is the fact of disobedience that is the emphasis not its particulars.

This being the case, we come to what came about as a consequence of the fall and why? It is interesting that before the fall:

The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame (Ge.2:25)

But after the fall:

The eyes of both of them were opened, and they realised that they were naked (Ge.3:7)

In both verses they were naked but in the first they were unaware of their nakedness and in the second they were all too aware of it. What occurred to effect this change?

It seems to me that up to this point their regard was entirely to God. They were unaware of their nakedness because they were unaware of themselves, that is to say they were unselfconscious. They could walk around naked unselfconsciously, they could have sex unselfconsciously because God was the centre of their world as they walked with him in the cool of the evening.

A single act of disobedience brought a devastating sense of themselves. They dethroned God and became the centre of their own world, becoming aware of themselves and thoroughly self-regarding for the first time. This is why sinfulness is in the nature of mankind and not simply an option we choose. Self-consciousness is much like becoming aware of anything for the first time. Once you realise a thing you simply must live in light of it, or go against your own nature in denying it. This is why such an incredible solution was necessary to put it right. It is in coming to faith in Christ that our attention and focus moves away from us and back to God in Christ. This is a miracle.

My Beautiful Welsh Mother, 1917-2005

Only Connect

Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.
EM Forster, Howard's End

Sunday, 12 August 2007

River Towy, Carmarthenshire

Driving Faith

I am currently in that position euphemistically known among Christians as "in between churches". In other words, there are times when a Christian who thinks about things wonders, "what am I doing among these people?" I have thought of it in terms of the cars one might drive.

Once I drove a Fiat Mormon because I was attracted by the exotic and mysterious. But it was empty promise more than 'eastern promise'.

Then I drove a Chrysler Charismatic because I was impressed by the chrome and the speed. But it was unreliable, stalled a lot and proved difficult to control.

I then drove a Ford Baptist because I was looking for something more dependable and familiar. But it wasn't very fast and didn't seem to go anywhere.

I am now test driving different makes but find them all lacking somehow. What I feel instinctively is that I need a Renault Fundamental or a Citroen Orthodox but they seem hard to come by these days.

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Aberglasney, West Wales, August 1 2007

That's Why it's so Hot

The weather recently has been so good. These are indeed the dog days of summer. The name "dog days" refers to the usually sultry period from about July 3 through August 11. So-called because it marks a period extending from 20 days before to 20 days after the conjunction of Sirius (the dog star) and the sun. According to Brewers, the Romans called these the dog days, caniculares dies, based on the theory that the dog star, rising with the sun, added to its heats. The dog days were thought to bear the combined the heat of both. Here is a picture of my brother's dog, Benjy, having his day.