Sunday, 18 August 2013

Logical Thinking

Logic. The tool of a mathematician. When you are learning maths, unless you are some kind of genius, you need to be taught logical ways to work through problems. The cries of 'why do I need to show my working?' are always answered, 'because you need to learn how to set out your work in logical steps to set up for the future hard maths you will do'. 

Logic. I used to teach someone who was better than me at maths. He would do a problem and if he came to the wrong conclusion he would ask me to see if I could work out what he had done wrong. The problem is that most of his logical working was different to my logic. He missed out bits, he did lots in his head, it took me a long time to make sense of his work because the way he thought logically was different to the way I thought logically. 

The problem I have when people come to different conclusions to me is when I am told that what I think or believe has no logic. I admit occasional lapses into illogicalness, and when that happens I do tell myself off for it, or proclaim my fallible humanity that I cannot always be perfect. I have a problem though, when somebody tells me I am illogical, just because they disagree with me and assume I have not thought my deep held beliefs through. I would never believe in anything that I hadn't thought through and didn't make sense - I'm a mathematician. 

I read recently an article in the Independent that is headlined 'Religious People are less intelligent than atheists....'. It can be found here. This hit home with me because I have been basically told I am stupid and illogical for believing in God - that I might as well believe in the flying spaghetti monster for all the sense it makes. When you read through the article you discover that actually the research is quite flawed and subjective - the researchers themselves do not take this as evidence that only 'stupid' people believe in God, but that there is more to it than that. They state the argument for more intelligent people not turning to religion as normally being that '...religious beliefs are irrational, not anchored in science, not testable....', but go on to conclude that there is something with more intelligent people that as they feel more capable in reason, that they do not want to lose control of what they can control - that there is an element of personal control in rejecting what they don't understand. 

Now, I don't know whether that is true, and I am always suspicious when it comes to studies like this because of their subjectivity and the margins for error in statistical testing.... but there may be something in the fact that if we accept God as necessary and rational (which many intelligent people do), then that challenges our own human capabilities and often our perception of reason, and some of us find that a huge challenge because it does mean letting go of control. 

For me it makes sense to believe in God. When I look at the world around me and in a way that is so finely tuned it makes even more sense.  I came across an article by John Polkinghorne about The Anthropic Principle a while ago, which really excited me because it linked the beauty of Physics with the existence of God (worth a read). The more I learn about science, the more God makes sense. 

I believe logic and reason do point to God. I value the work of intelligent Scientists who are also Christians that explain it in much better ways than I can (see The Faraday Institute for examples and more to read). So when I say I'm a Christian, I wish people would think and get to know me before they assume I'm illogical, because for me, it makes sense. Science and Religion are not in conflict and when we put our faith in human intelligence being the be all and end all of everything, I believe we miss out. 

Every time I learn something new about the world, I cannot help myself but glorify God. 

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Changing from the inside out....

I'm an introvert. Most people who know me know this is true. Always the quiet ones.... 

I love people watching, and sometimes I will sit quietly in a group situation until space is made for my thoughts to catch up with the conversation so that I can speak coherently about what I want to talk about. Sometimes in conversation I miss some of the conversation because I am thinking about how to respond to something that was said just a minute ago. I'll admit I'm a little bit scared of the phone.....

Recently, however, some things have come up that have questioned my introvert diagnosis.... I've begun to realise that if I spend too much time on my own I crave company to be energised. During the last week a few people have posted on facebook and twitter 27 problems only introverts will understand and I realised that I only relate to seven of them.....

I wonder if I have changed? I wonder if I have never really been a real introvert. I do get energised by spending time alone, but spending too much time alone means I need company to be energised..... When I was a teacher my time alone was important.... now.... it's important.... but my time with others is becoming more important. 

I always knew that following the call of God into ministry would challenge my very being. My very being is called, but not always ready, not always feeling worthy, and very often agitated. My very being is in God's hands, but so often tries to jump out and live within society's conventions. My very being is not so introverted any more.... 

As I journey I am changed. Sometimes this totally unsettles me.....

When I was exploring my call to ministry, in the sermon where I decided to go for it, the preacher talked about how we should not let convention get in the way of where God is calling us. She mentioned mortgages as I sat there and thought - 'why did I buy a house?' 

I still own my house, which is rented out, but there are occasions, like today, where I realise that my mortgage attachment distracts me sometimes from caring about the things that God cares about as I am reminded that it's there. I have no problems with money - I am so blessed in so many ways - God again and again provides me with just enough, however, it seems that as I change, there are things that have not changed that continue to challenge me. One of my ministry mottos is 'Let go and let God', but when money is involved sometimes that's hard, as while I am following the will of God, actually I still need to keep a grip on stuff that I own.... because I still live in the world. 

In one of our lectures last year we talked about how Old Testament Law was different to other writings around at the time as it was human centred and not money centred. When we worry about money and that comes above worrying about looking after humanity then we miss that.....

So today I am challenged. I believe that people matter more than possessions, so, while worrying is not a great thing to do.... I need to remember that if I do all the right things and live sensibly, actually, because I am in a relatively comfortable place, the money stuff will be fine.... it's the lives of the people I meet and hear about that should cause me greater anxiety than that.....

When God challenges my very being, he doesn't just challenge the introvert tendencies in me by changing me to enable me to be more effective in ministry, but he challenges me where I thought in my head I had it sorted, but in my automatic feeling responses to things, I don't necessarily do.... and I wasn't expecting that.....

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Slooowwly does it.....

I love eating out. Sitting down with friends, chatting as other people serve us and we savour what is hopefully good food and don't do the washing up afterwards. For me particularly good eating out generally has to be a bit of an experience - the food needs to be good, the atmosphere needs to be right, the company engaging and I do not need to be rushed. 

Never rush me. Please never rush me.

I love the places where I am able to sit and be as I eat - where plates aren't taken away too early and nobody hovers to see if you have finished. The best people to eat out with are those who are happy to take their time and not worried about getting to the next thing. That's not always possible, but long and lazy lunches or dinners are something I really enjoy. The best food is food that is not what you would normally cook at home and brings an element of surprise or pleasure. I love tiramisu and I savour every mouthful as it reaches all of my senses. Desserts are not made to be gobbled down but are made to be savoured.....

I've gradually learned the art of quality and not quantity. It's never about the amount of food you get but it's about the taste, smell, look, feel and even sometimes sound of the food (there is something exciting about the sound of a sizzling dish as it is brought over to your table). 

One of my favourite meals out was in a restaurant in the Algarve. It was bizarrely an English country restaurant (as you do) but was the closest one to the flat in which we were staying. We'd watched the flambeing of the pancakes of the table next door... but then they came to my Creme Brulee (second favourite dessert - the crack, the smoothness) and the waiter put whatever alcohol it was in the jug, set fire to it, and poured the blue flame from jug to jug. It was spectacular. 

My nightmare meal out is at a £3.95 carvery. Pile high, eat fast, cheap food, cattle market. You know what you are going to get, but it's all the same. 

I spotted someone buying a book called 'The Art of Curating Worship' by Mark Pierson and bought it because it looked interesting. He relates this contrast of good and bad eating experiences to our experience in worship. He talks about the 'slow-food movement' which 'involves valuing time to prepare, eat, and build community through food'. He begins to explore what he calls 'slow worship' where worship is based around the culture of the community rather than around a pre-packaged worship meal that is the same all the time. The time taken to prepare, experience and build community through worship is really important. Pierson says that the idea of 'slow worship' might mean that we come to worship with a real expectation that we will encounter God. 

When I eat out I savour the experience. 

When our worship services are clinical or pre-packaged or something to get over with so we can get on with the day then we might as well eat at a cheap carvery..... it'll do, for a moment, but is it an experience worth having? 

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Boats in the Street

I've been reading a book by Jess Walter called 'Beautiful Ruins'. It's about people whose lives cross for different reasons and the beautiful and dysfunctional relationships that are built at those crossing places. I'm about half way through and despite it doing what many books do these days and jumping from place to place and year to year I am engrossed and understand who relates to who and kind of why. It speaks about how we put up with what we have because it is familiar or because we want to make atonement for disappointing people or because we know no better than to act in the way we do. 

One of the main characters in the book is a film director called Michael Deane. Where I am up to currently he is portrayed as a bit of an idiot but with an intriguing past - a past he doesn't appear to want to reveal but comes to hit him in the face again and again. He has a fierce loyalty to people he has met, giving them the opportunity to try and make something of their film ideas (although rejecting too many) and providing space for them to be heard out (even if only by his assistant). 

We first meet Michael Deane when he is in Rome creating a film. He shows the man who has sought him out (Pasquale) the 'Sinking boat fountain' or the Fontana della Barcaccia which is in a square that used to get flooded often before river walls were built. After one such flood in the 16th Century a boat was left behind. The boat was simply dumped randomly in the disaster and the artist who created the fountain has captured some of that. 

Michael Deane shows Pasquale the fountain and says this (thinking about the mistake Pasquale has come to confront him with):

'.... sometimes there is no explanation for the things that happen. Sometimes a boat simply appears on a street. And as odd as it may seem, one has no choice but to deal with the fact that there's suddenly a boat on the street.'

This struck me as I read it this morning. In trying to understand what happens in life, we try and analyse and bring logic into the situation. This boat - the explanation was there - the flood - the waters going, leaving it behind. Yet why there and why then? We get stuck looking at the boat and wonder what would have happened if it had been different, but what we've got to deal with is the fact that the boat is there and even when it has been dismantled and taken away, the memory of the boat is left behind, as in the fountain. 

How do we deal with it? 

Sometimes it's not trying to understand and accepting that the boat needs to be walked away from. 

Sometimes it's taking the boat apart, bit by bit and building something new from the materials. 

Sometimes it's remembering the devastation left by the boat, coming back to it occasionally, but not letting it distract us. 

Sometimes it's simply accepting that the boat is there, that we'll have to continue to deal with it, that we'll never know why, but that that is OK.

One of my favourite disciples is Peter. In Matthew 14 we read the story of Jesus walking on the water and calling to Peter to 'come'. Peter does, but then he doubts and he calls out for help. Jesus gently tells him off for not believing that he could come to him. As we deal with the boats in the street and try and do it alone, we've got to remember that Jesus says 'come' - and one step at a time we might make the boat less of an influence as with each step we trust in him just that little bit more that he knows (that he is) the way.... and..... what we don't understand is in his hands and he carries it for us in our confusion and hurt.