Saturday, 22 September 2018

The importance of creation

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth... all things have been created through him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. ... For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
from Colossians 1:15-20

Our first Tenants of the King study focused on this poetic passage from Colossians 1, which talks about how Jesus, the Son of God, is supreme over everything.  The study encouraged us to consider what we believed about the relationship between Jesus and creation, and what creation is made for.

Because I rather like my plastic cup analogy from my last post, I'm going to use it again to explain some of the themes from this study.  A plastic cup belief is one that we've picked up easily, never given much thought to, and may cause a lot more damage than we realise.  Here are three which Colossians 1 might encourage you to find alternatives to.

Plastic cup belief 1: Humans are the most important thing in the universe

Well, this one is hardly limited to Christians.  I think we all believe this, simply because we are human.  In our modern world, it is exacerbated by our surroundings; for most of us, everything we see is constructed with human convenience and comfort in mind.  We have to go a long way to find a piece of earth which hasn't been shaped by people.  The danger is that we can then justify anything that benefits us, from factory farming to strip mining to housing developments, ignoring the consequences for the rest of the world.

The Christian faith tends to reinforce our view that humans are important, by stating that we (and we alone) are created in the image of God; that Jesus came to save us (and us alone); and that regarding creation as too important is coming dangerously close to worshipping it rather than God.

These beliefs are not entirely wrong, but they may not be entirely right either.  Look at that repetition of "all things" in Colossians 1: Jesus created all things, holds all things together, and moreover, is bringing all things back to God.  When you look into the sky and think about how many stars and planets and galaxies "all things" includes, you realise just how small a part we are.   We hold in tension the knowledge that we are mere pinpricks in an infinite universe, with the belief that our Creator cared enough about us to become one of us.  We are important.  Just slightly less important than we think.

Plastic cup belief 2: The more spiritual we are, the less we should think about material things


If you mentally picture someone who is really spiritual, what do you imagine?  Someone who floats around in a kind of holy bubble, indifferent to possessions, buffered from difficult emotions, without any ties to the everyday world?  Yup, I know lots of people like that too.

Tempting though that idea of holiness might be, the Christian story points the opposite way.  The holier you are, the more likely you are to be rolling your sleeves up and getting stuck into dealing with actual messy life.  Jesus' tasks include holding things together and reconciling them - never an easy job - and he spent his time on earth talking about farming, money, baking bread and even washing up.  Getting closer to God doesn't give us a licence to ignore the earth's problems.  In fact it gives us more of a reason to work on them.

Plastic cup belief 3: The main reason Jesus came is to get us to heaven when we die


This one follows on from the previous two, really.  God's interest in creation is often presented as him merely reaching in to rescue those particular human beings who have committed to him, as if snatching them from a raging river minutes before the rest of it plunges over a cliff.  In this view, the rest of creation is doomed anyway, and our only task is to make sure as many people are rescued as possible.  Humans are the most important thing, and the material world is only a dangerous distraction.

In Colossians 1, the picture is very different.  A beloved Son, who is intimately involved with the whole created world, lived in it as the image of God, and is bringing peace to it, ultimately returning it to its original glory in God.  That gives a whole different perspective on what God is doing, what we are doing, and what we are hoping for.  The next study, from Romans 8, develops this theme.

Bible quote from the Holy Bible, New International Version (Anglicised) Copyright 2011 by Biblica Inc.
Image credits: Pixabay 


Introduction: Compostable Christians
Study 1: The Importance of Creation
Study 2: Groaning Inwardly
Study 3: Do Not Fear!
Study 4: Live in the Light 

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Compostable Christians

Are you a compostable consumer?

We're all pretty well biodegradable when it comes down to it, of course.  In 500 years' time there won't be much left of our bodies.  But the archeologists of 2518 will have plenty to go on to reconstruct our habits - from life's first disposable nappy and squeaky toy, to final toothbrush and mobile phone, plastic commands our destiny.

Now that's changing.

Plastic-free has suddenly become mainstream.  My friendly catering catalogue offers an eco-friendly range to cater for "the more socially-conscious modern-day consumer" (the what??) and we are all being urged to refuse straws and rethink our packaging.

But why?


Just a few years ago, most of us would look at a bulging bag full of dirty plastic plates and cups after a party, and think, "What a waste."  Then we'd throw it in the bin and go, "Oh well, can't be helped."  We knew it wasn't great, but we believed there wasn't really anything we could do about it.  At least, not easily.  Or cheaply.  And most people, most of the time, do the easiest thing.  Or the cheapest.

But some people believed that there was something you could do, and that it was more important than settling for the easy and cheap option.  So they kept doing the more difficult and more expensive thing, and persuading others to do the same, until suddenly, it's easy to buy compostable cups, and it's cheaper to take your reusable cup to the coffee shop.  Some people's beliefs have influenced the way that we are all acting.


As Christians, we tend to think a lot about how what we believe changes the way we act.  But I was sceptical that I needed any specific Christian beliefs about caring for the environment.  Surely it was something that, as humans, we all needed to do something about?  I certainly didn't need a theology of God the Creator to turn the light off or recycle a tin can!

Thinking about it a bit more, though, I realised that we all have a lot of beliefs that we've picked up without examining them very carefully.  Like plastic cups, they become part of our lives without our noticing.  And like plastic cups, they can have a large effect on the world around us.


I realised, too, that I can't entirely divorce my Christian beliefs from my cultural beliefs.  I am no more likely now to read the Bible and conclude that I should trash the world as fast as possible, than I am to read the Bible and decide that slavery is actually a good thing.  That plastic cup was thrown away a long time ago.

Still, at a time when we are being urged to change our actions in so many different ways, it's always worth having another look at the beliefs behind them.  Why do I think that?  Did I know I thought that?  And what am I basing it on, anyway?

So I'm leading a study about Christianity and the environment, over the next few weeks at my ladies' group, using this resource from Operation Noah.  I'm planning to cover some of the same topics here on the blog, so please read along and decide whether you think Christians should be compostable, too.

Introduction: Compostable Christians
Study 1: The Importance of Creation
Study 2: Groaning Inwardly
Study 3: Do Not Fear!
Study 4: Live in the Light 

Photo credits: Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Ten books that shaped my life

Ten books that shaped my life in some way.  Now that wasn't a problem.  I scanned the bookshelves and picked out nine favourites without the slightest difficulty (the tenth took a little longer).

The problem was that, on the Facebook challenge, I wasn't supposed to explain why.  Nope.  Having picked out my ten, I couldn't let them go without saying why they were special to me.

These books are more than a collection of words by an author.  They are particular editions of those words - taped-up, egg-stained, dust-jacketless and battered - which have come into my life, been carried around to different homes, and become part of who I am.

How to Be a Domestic Goddess

Well, every woman needs an instruction manual, doesn't she?

Nigella's recipes mean lazy Saturday mornings eating pancakes, comforting crumbles on a rainy night, Christmas cakes, savoury onion pies and mounds of bread dough.  If you avoid the occasional extravagance (20 mini Bundt tins and a kilo of pistachios? Skip that one...) her recipes pretty much always work, and work well.  My life, and my cooking, have definitely been shaped by this book.

This is the sort of cake that people label 'very rich' but then go on to have three slices with languorous ease.

The Dark is Rising
The beauty of this book is in its exceptional sense of place.  There are five books in the sequence, set in Cornwall, North Wales and Buckinghamshire, and Susan Cooper weaves in real legends and real geography into her fictional fantasy.  When the white mare leaps the Thames "to the side that is the end of Buckinghamshire, the beginning of Berkshire", I was almost sure I could find the exact spot, not 20 miles from my home; and when my parents bought a travel guide to North Wales, I dipped into it to find mention of the Brenin Llwyd, the Grey King of the fourth book in the series.  Just recently I discovered that the Trefeddian Hotel even exists (and, moreover, has excellent facilities for children) so now, of course, I want to go there and "be on the beach at sunrise"...

And in a great blaze of yellow-white light, the sun rose over Hunter's Combe and the valley of the Thames.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
A new arrival on my bookshelf.  You have to marvel at the sheer effrontery of a guy who undertakes to write a history of the entire human race, and you have to marvel at his ability when he manages to do it readably and entertainingly.  If you want to know why wheat really domesticated us, rather than vice versa, or how a bank can turn $1 million into $10 million because we trust the future, Sapiens is worth a read.

Humanity's search for an easier life released immense forces of change that transformed the world in ways nobody wanted or envisioned.

Tangletrees
Before Tangletrees came to my bookshelf, it lived at my Nanna and Grandpop's house, along with a shelf of Agatha Christies, a box of toys, and a magazine rack of People's Friends, which I used to read behind the sofa.  I made a beeline for Tangletrees every time we visited, and when my Grandpop died and the house had to be cleared, I was allowed to bring it home with me.  I still like the story, but it's the memories which come with this one that make it special.

"I didn't think," said the little girl drowsily to herself, as she began to feel sleepy again, "that things would ever happen to me like they do in books - but they are!"

A Severe Mercy
Life and death and marriage and poetry and beauty and faith and joy and sorrow.  All in one book, and one life.  Sheldon Vanauken vows to live "the heights and the depths" rather than some safe middle way, and his story gave me an idea of what love can be, and what losing that love can be.

We met angrily in the dead of winter.  I wanted my money back.  Her job was to keep me from getting it.

Gaudy Night
Gaudy Night stands in for the whole series of murder mysteries.  Dorothy L. Sayers is ferociously intelligent and tends to write books which make you wish you were much more educated than you are, so that you could recognise even half of the allusions she makes.  Harriet and Lord Peter conduct their romance by means of letters in Latin, and she finally accepts his proposal outside an Oxford college, while they are dressed in academic gowns.  Seriously.  Love Island it is not.

"You have the scholarly mind and you'd always feel uncomfortable knowing it was wrong, even if nobody else knew."

The Piano Shop on the Left Bank
I've played the piano since I was four, and this is a fantastic book which intertwines the history and mechanics of the piano with the story of a man rediscovering his childhood love for the piano while he's living in Paris.  It brings out the magic and mystery of music beautifully.

It seemed unimaginable to me that adults would conceive of an entire contraption, at once huge and respectable, whose sole function was to make noise.

The Periodic Table
This was my tenth choice and the only one I don't currently own.  But I had to have something for chemistry.  My A-level chemistry teacher told me about Primo Levi - he was an Italian chemist who survived Auschwitz, and wrote some incredibly moving books about the experience.  The Periodic Table is a collection of short stories from his life, each linked to a different chemical element.

They are indeed so inert, so satisfied with their condition, that they do not interfere in any chemical reaction, do not combine with any other element, and for precisely this reason have gone undetected for centuries.
 
The Bible (Revised Standard Version)
If you attended my primary school, you may recognise this particular edition of the Bible - our Year 6 leaving gift.  I could hardly avoid including the Bible among the books which have shaped my life; this one ensured that I became a life-long reader of the somewhat dated Revised Standard Version (I've recently updated to the New RSV, which avoids thees and thous).  You can see by the electrical tape down the spine that it's been pretty well used - a badge of honour for a Bible, in the same way that food splodges are for a recipe book.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary
And finally: The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (in two volumes) was my 18th birthday present from my parents.  That I was immediately absorbed in it probably tells you everything you need to know about me.  Paper reference books have been rather superseded by the internet, but I still pull it out from time to time - mostly recently to query the difference between faint and feint, and to discover that they're essentially the same word, with the same root as feign.  And if that doesn't shape my life, then I don't know what will.

faint a. Also (now only Comm. in sense 6b, formerly also in sense 1) feint. ME. [OFr. faint, feint pa. pple of faindre, feindre FEIGN.] 1 Feigned, simulated. Now rare. ... 6 Making a slight or feeble impression on the senses; hardly perceptible, dim, indistinct.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Summer highlights 2018

Um, hello?  Is this thing on?

Testing... testing...

Ah, good.  Can you all hear me now?  It's been so long that I've almost forgotten how this works.

Right then, the boys are back at school and it's on with the blog!  Here are a few highlights of what we got up to while they weren't at school.

The great outdoors

The weekend before the holidays, we headed to the Peak District to climb Mam Tor.  This takes about ten minutes from the car park, so it's not as strenuous as it sounds.  There are beautiful views from both sides of the ridge.  Just make sure you don't overbalance into a gorse bush like I did (ouch!)


Our National Trust membership got put to use again, as we returned to our local favourites.  The boys explored the maze at Calke Abbey and played giant Connect 4 on the lawn at Sudbury Hall.




We also visited somewhere new: Bradgate Park, near Leicester.  We were most impressed - it's a beautiful spot, with deer roaming free, a photogenic ruined house, and plenty of rocks to climb on.



And in our own back yard, the vegetable garden has been loving all the sun - we've eaten more tomatoes than you want to know about - and we camped out for a night.  Gotta love a campfire!




Vehicles

Aeroplanes at the Aeropark by East Midlands Airport


Trams at Crich Tramway Museum


Cars at Cars in the Park in Lichfield


More cars at Donington Racetrack



New experiences

Toby played in his first piano recital, held in his piano teacher's back garden.  He was very confident and did a great job!



Theo suddenly decided he wanted to take the stabilizers off his bike.  I spent 10 minutes hanging on to the back of his saddle while he got his balance, and then, suddenly, he was off!


We took the boys to the cinema for the first time.  Derby QUAD, our local independent cinema, offers extremely good value family tickets, so we went there to see Hotel Transylvania 3.  Vampires, werewolves, and strange jelly monsters on a cruise ship - what more could you want in a movie?


Friends and family

It's been a very sociable summer!  We enjoyed a visit from my grandparents, who flew over from America for a week, quite unexpectedly.  Grandma (always a 1st-grade-teacher!) had the boys counting chocolates, and Grandpa taught Toby a poem (A flea and a fly in a flue...).  They all had a great time together.  Various other family members dropped in while they were here, too, so we had a houseful for two days.

We also caught up with friends from Bristol and Sandhurst, visited Graham's sister in Yorkshire, and spent time with parents and local friends too.



And finally...

Graham and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary with a couple of nights away in Lyme Regis.  My parents looked after the boys, and Graham had arranged everything, with a beautiful B&B, an enormous bunch of flowers, and even some perfect weather to top it all off!  It was such a treat to eat out, go for a long coast walk, and simply wander around without a care in the world (for two days).





And when we got back, our cares in the world had made us a very nice anniversary cake!