The challenge of the cheetah

Well it seems that Tesco clubcard vouchers will get you anything these days.  Gone are the times when one point would get you a glorious penny off your shopping bill; for yesterday we got into a Safari park, paid for entirely on clubcard points.  Would you Adam and Eve it.

Anyhow…

The multifarious species of exotic cattle trying to regale us into parting with our carrot sticks were all fine and dandy.  But I had bigger fish to fry.  I wanted to see the wolves.  The signposts warned that, were we careless, they would probably try to chew the wheels off our car, and that sounded interesting.  Or perhaps I wanted to see the tigers; the largest of all the big cats, surely ready to make a meal of the unwary traveller; maybe in my heart of hearts it was the rare white lions they had; the most exotic form of the king of cats, stalking their prey with merciless precision; or maybe, just maybe, the cheetahs, ready to take on whatever speed our measly 1.6 litre engine could throw at it in a desperate attempt to chase human flesh.  Whichever, it was all pretty exciting stuff.

Well, the wolves were nowhere to be seen.  The tigers sat on their platform, yawning at the dreary humans in their metal shells.  One of the lions had the decency to be gnawing a large bone, but I got the impression his heart wasn’t really in it.  And to cap it all, the cheetahs didn’t even move.  Of course, they knew we were all safely ensconced in our cars.  They’d probably learnt early on that energy spent trying to get people was energy wasted.  But still, the fact that their impressive might and speed and ferocity was not on display frustrated me.

“Why?” I silently cursed the cheetahs.  “If I had the power and speed you did, I wouldn’t sit lazing about all day.  I’d be running up and down at full speed just because I could!”

“So?” replied the cheetahs, “You’re no better.  You humans have the power to put an end to poverty, malnutrition, homelessness, injustice, disease, climate change… and what do you do with it?”

Well that put me in my place.

I went on to enjoy the giraffes, who fully deserved the rest of our carrots, and made no demands on my morals.

In the words of Spiderman, with great power comes great responsibility…

© 2009 Paul Brownnutt

[Originally Published 14th August 2009]

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The wrong video clips of God

This note started out life as a response a post by a friend, and I then re-posted it in its own right for Easter.

I recently looked up one of my favourite songs on YouTube.  It’s called “In Christ Alone”

YouTube came up with this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BcpLZgCwcEE&feature=related

Somebody had set this moving and uplifting song to scenes of “The passion of the Christ” but my first impression was that the scenes chosen didn’t always fit too well with the song.  Uplifting lines from the song were set to altogether less uplifting scenes from the film.

Then it occurred to me that, in fact, that’s the whole point. These gorgeous songs sometimes give us a “mountain-top” experience, a real sensation of the closeness of God. But “mountain-top” experiences are not a goal. They are something God gives us to strengthen us to live in the real world as salt and light. And the real world isn’t always shiny, and it doesn’t always fit feel-good music. But God’s there in it anyway – as our pastor describes it: “The glory in the grey”

And suddenly to listen to the haunting strains of “In Christ alone my strength is found; he is my light, my strength, my song” juxtaposed against a background of scenes of the conflict and suffering of Christ’s passion makes sense.  It brings it alongside the later line

’til on the cross as Jesus died,
the wrath of God was satisfied”

What a strange blend of the triumphant and the sorrowful; the glory and the grey.

So, other than the fact it’s an Easter song set against an Easter story, am I making a point about Easter?  Well, yes.

Good Friday and Easter Sunday are deeply and intrinsically part of the same event, but so starkly different in the contrast between the death of Christ and his resurrection.  The same blend of triumph and sorrow; the same blend of glory and grey.  Easter is the baseline of our faith.  The triumph of Easter Sunday reminds us what God’s love is all about.  Good Friday reminds us what it cost.  And neither can be taken in isolation.

And our Christian lives which revolve around these two events must be equally paradoxical.  We live in the glory and triumph of a risen Christ, but called to embrace the suffering of the cross.  As well as Easter being the goal (to restore our own broken relationship with God) it is also a challenge: to be salt and light in his broken world.

A little like the quote I have on my profile: We are not set free FROM something. We are set free FOR something.

So, if you’ll allow me to move on to the final line of the song:

’til he returns or calls me home,
here in the power of Christ I’ll stand

© 2009 Paul Brownnutt

[Originally Published 12th April 2009]

Disturbing grace

The beginnings of a musing

It’s easy to admit most things these days. Politicians can admit that they smoked drugs at university (or even at a club last week, as long as they didn’t inhale). Teenagers surveyed by pollsters are happy to admit to underage drinking.

Still, there are still some things you don’t admit to. And one of them is liking James Blunt. So I will start with this terrible confession: I like James Blunt.

The reason I mention it at this juncture is that I was struck by some of the lyrics of “Same mistake” the other day, which go something like this:

I’m not calling for a second chance,
I’m screaming at the top of my voice.
Give me reason, but don’t give me choice,
’cause I’ll just make the same mistake again.

Now, far be it from me to second-guess what was going through Mr Blunt’s head in this theme (You’d be disturbed if I could)

However, this set me upon a train of thought… Incidentally, lots of things set me on a train of thought. It’s the price I pay for having the concentration span of a mayfly. Anyway…

Getting it wrong

Of course I make mistakes. This makes me imperfect, and nothing I can do can make me perfect again. And of course I can only rely on God’s grace to give me a second chance to try to get things right. But assuming I accept God’s forgiveness, he forgives me unconditionally, making me, once again, perfect in his eyes.

Now this is great, but if I think about it, it is a more daunting prospect than I care to imagine.

I might like to think I’ll be OK getting things right myself given that second chance. However the reality is that like Mr Blunt, given choice, I will make the same mistake again, which, assuming I genuinely wanted that second chance to get things right, seems terribly unfair and a little depressing. It would almost be easier not to have the choice.

Transform

Fortunately, when God gives me second, third, and seventy-seventh chances, he doesn’t say “Well, you screwed that one up well and truly, so let’s see you prove you can do it better”. On the contrary, he promises to be the means for me get it right.

So here are some quotes from various people whose words express the point I’m trying to make rather better than my own.

Ezekiel:

I will take out your heart of stone, and give you a new heart of flesh, and I will put my spirit in you and move you to obey my laws and do whatever I command.

Garbage:

You look so fine.
I want to break your heart,
And give you mine

Jars of Clay:

Crossing nameless from the one I’ve earned,
To be the one, the one you gave to me

© 2008 Paul Brownnutt

[Originally Published 14th October 2008]

Theology of a one-year-old

Being a dad has many advantages, not least of which is seeing how our kids relate to us – and sometimes it can bring a whole new perspective to how we relate to our heavenly father.

I recorded this event when Oliver was one year old.  I’ve sent it to a few people, but it bears retelling…

The theme of how we cope with the unknown has probably been preached quite enough times, but if we can relate to God as father, then Oliver’s teachings of 6AM on a wintry Tuesday morning are invaluable:

I had got up early to make coffee and get ready for work.  Oliver had got up with me, and we were pottering around the kitchen.  Monica was having a well-deserved few extra minutes of sleep.  The kitchen light was on, but all the other lights were still off, so we didn’t wake her up.

Suddenly Oliver vanished, and I heard him a few seconds later at the start of the hallway, shouting “Mama!  Mama!”

I ambled through and asked “Do you wanted to go and see mummy?”  He nodded.

“Go on then.”  He shook his head.  The light from the kitchen just reached where he was standing, but the rest of the hallway and the bedroom were dark.

“Are you worried because it’s dark?” I asked.  Nod.

“Are you worried because you can’t see where you’re going?”  Another nod.

So I held his hand, and said “Shall we go and see mummy together?”  Another nod, and off he went.

Suddenly it didn’t matter that it was dark, or that he couldn’t see.  Daddy was holding his hand, and daddy knew where he was going, so that was OK.

Perhaps I can learn…

© 2007 Paul Brownnutt

[Originally published 4th May 2008]