Monthly Archives: July 2016

Self transcendence

Sanneh-What-If-Boxing-Were-Run-Like-MMA1-1200The world’s stage has become a boxing ring demanding comment. Perhaps it’s more of a cage fight or a backstreet brawl, but I’m sure you take my point. On one hand we have the liberal left, on the other the fundamentalist right.

The left’s iron fist is in a satin glove. The talk is tolerance and dignity for all, and these are good things. What is flawed is the underlying philosophy of self-actualisation and lawlessness. This is as intolerant as the right as it proffers rights without responsibilities. I buy into the dignity for all, and I think we should make a great deal of space for one another, but I’m against boundary-less-ness, and I don’t want any sinful, demonised fellow becoming the best manifestation of his sinful demonised self possible. Wrong will never be right, and no matter how fine the satin glove, the iron fist it clothes bodes deadly for our future.

The right is no better. The horseshoe strapped across its knuckles is Law – eye for eye and tooth for tooth. That sounds good until we remind ourselves that all are sinners, not unlike that sinful, demonised fellow. The right is as self-obsessed as the left as well, except self-denial replaces self-actualisation. I’m all in favour of the rule of law, but not of legalism, which carves a hard road into the future, littered with judgementalism, condemnation, pride, self-righteousness, idealism, exclusivity, elitism and prejudice.

Cage+Fighting+Held+Wembley+Arena+2Gf3OFQ5HVOlAs we watch these two worldviews slug it out on the world’s stage, the battle reeling from political to economic to religious arenas and back again, let’s remind ourselves of three important facts. Firstly, these opposing worldviews are the best that human wisdom have to offer. Secondly, no matter who wins, nobody wins. And thirdly, the Gospel is divine wisdom and the alternative to both. There we find news of sins forgiven, and of deliverance from the dominion of the same. There we find self-government anchored in God and re-creation, and actioned by the transformational leadership of the indwelling Spirit. There we find hope beyond self-actualisation and self-denial, neither of which have a track record worth perpetuating. For there we find the transcendence of self. Co-crucified with Christ and co-raised with Him, we are in Christ and Christ is in us. In the Gospel we find fullness and freedom within the absolute of the Altogether Good. There we find grace. There we find faith. There we find life. There we find hope. There we find God, who has already done everything necessary to find us.

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Finger on the pulse

imageModern cycling computers provide some pretty sophisticated telemetry. You can know where you are, how far you’ve come, how fast you’re going, your cadence, the amount of energy your ride has consumed, and even keep track of your power output. Professional cyclists pump significant wattage through those pedals for extended periods, and refuel by consuming the equivalent of up to forty hamburgers a day. Watch a stage of the Tour de France with someone who is in the know and you might discover that your inner cycling fan is alive and well.

imageAll of these measurements are valuable. But there is one more valuable than the rest, and that is heart rate. All the others measure what you are doing. How fast. How far. Calories used. Watts produced. But your heart rate measures how you are doing. How hard can you still go, and for how long, before coming to the end of yourself.

The analogy is a profound one, for life in the Spirit is lived from the heart. Christians, churches and ministries burn out because they focus on performance, and end up going too hard for too long.

Pace setting from the heart is a discipline. That’s especially true of those with personalities like mine. When I’m a little out of shape and out on my bike on a hot and windy day, keeping myself in a moderate zone on the monitor can be excruciating. At times it means crawling along, to the point that pedestrians stare as they go past. This is especially noticeable when a number of them are heading in the same direction as what you are.

I’m not arguing for some sort of perpetual tortosity (tortoiseness?) here. When your heart is in fine fettle, go long and go hard. But when you’re spent, for whatever reason, recover. Live authentically. Live from the heart. When you’ve been under duress for a period, or when you’re healing up physically or emotionally – life happens – then be wise. Let the hares head into the distance. The Christian life is not a competition. Your only race to run is yours. Run it well. Fact is, we would all be infinitely more productive over the long haul if we focused on health above output.

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Serendipity Guaranteed

Brand Pots high quality picPottery is not easy. When we started out, we reasoned that the mastery of ancient crafts were well within the reach of modern man. “If the Neanderthals could do this, so can we”, I would chirp. Thing is, outspoken ignorance throws egg on its face. Mine sure did.

There are just so many variables. The ancients would dig and refine their clay. I buy mine. That probably works in my favour with consistency, but the material remains organic and variations occur. Then there are the challenges of construction. Wheel work and hand building are our thing. Construction includes decorating if slips or pigments are used. The dry wares are then bisque fired, followed by glazing. I buy my glazes too, tweaking the commercial stuff a little from time to time to give me what I want. Application is by dipping, pouring, spraying and brushing, or perhaps a combination of these. Then its back into the kiln, which peaks somewhere around the twelve hundred degrees centigrade mark, making us stoneware potters and our products vitreous.

Here’s the the thing. It sounds so simple. But it’s not. Materials interact with tolerances as fine as fractions of a gram. Temperature is sensitive to the degree. Factor in water quality (there’s water in everything), ambient temperature, humidity, and of course the kiln, and you’re stirring alphabet soup hoping to write a short story in the swirls. The only constant is inconsistency, and with every kiln opening the butterflies flutter a-frenzied in the belly.

Our_Pot_MergedA small percentage are good pots. Sometimes there are none. Occasionally a few. A tiny percentage of pots are real stunners. Even in the safe zone of white glaze over buff clay on an undemanding form, if you want six, make eight. This is because there is serendipity in every good result. Serendipity, when the variables coalesce into a smile.

But here’s the other thing. It is not serendipity alone. As Gary Player (famous golfer) reportedly said, “The more I practice, the luckier I get”. It’s a studied serendipity. A considered and nurtured serendipity. The more I apply myself to every stage of the process, the luckier I get, and the further I push the materials towards manifesting their flamboyant beauty to full potential. I’m no longer a novice, and I’m by no means yet a master, but my serendipity quotient is a pleasing rising tide.

Which brings me to the Gracious Potter. His wheel is this mortal coil, His kiln the furnace of life. Talk about variables, and that’s not to mention His impurity-ridden detritus-sodden uber-organic raw material, us. He is the Potter. We are the clay. He works in love, mercy and grace, bringing His genius to bear in His every thought, word and deed. His artistry is centered in the work of Christ, and songs of praise saturate the atmosphere as He works. There is pitch-perfect resonance throughout as His grace compensates over and above and more than enough, no matter what.

Cox_Pottery_2014_Collection_5835And out of the mud of sin and shame, saints from sinners, beauty from ashes, and the oil of joy for mourning. It’s life from death, glory from dishonor, peace from mayhem, and the eternal from what was only perishing without hope. What’s not to adore! There He is, ever redeeming, reclaiming, restoring, recreating, with the skill and patience of infinite love. His grace is a magnificent study in engineered serendipity. A carefully conceived, considered, constructed and nurtured serendipity. As such it is no serendipity at all, for a guaranteed serendipity is a contradiction in terms. His goodness is not of chance at all, but a reflection of His person and the fulfillment of His inviolable promises, which are firmly founded on the covenant of Christ.

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