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9 Coffins

September 29, 2015 — Leave a comment

As I approached the roundabout I could see the helicopter through the top of my windscreen. It was hovering, purposefully, keeping a keen eye on something yet unseen by me. I next caught sight of the police bikes. Two of them, both with their riders with their hands in the air bringing the oncoming traffic to a halt. I sat in my car, waiting, and with the other drivers around me wondered what was going on.

9 Coffins

Would there be a glimpse of someone famous? A dignitary, perhaps royalty, or a senior politician maybe

The sirens came next and more police bikes sped through the gap before fast-response cars followed. It was then that I saw the first hearse. It took the roundabout at speed, and was followed in quick succession by eight more. With only a length between them it was like watching an ominous race.

They sped off followed by more chase cars, all under the eyes of the men in the sky above.

9 hearses; 9 coffins. 9 of the victims from the Tunisia beach attack. I was suddenly only a few feet away from this shocking episode of evil.

One moment the victims were holidaying on a beach and now under comprehensive escort they were travelling the A40 at record pace. The hearses caught me by surprise. But I remember thinking that no one would have been more surprised than the victims themselves.

In a world where atrocities seem to take place at an alarming rate, the horror of evil actions remains shocking when observed by those near to them.

We all feel the wrongness of these situations. We think of the pain of those caught up in the events. We mourn.

When the immediate grief subsides, those caught up in suffering move from looking for comfort to looking for answers. ‘Why?’ And, ‘how?’ And, ‘could it have been prevented?’ And so on.

In this tragedy – as in many – there are tales of heroism. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things. The acts of evil, punctuated with humanity’s finest qualities. The good right alongside the bad.

Humanity, it would seem, has the capacity for incredible acts of love and at the same time the capacity for incredible acts of violence.

Everyone who lives has to face the suffering of this world. It is a worldwide problem; it is a human problem.

What we believe about the reality of the world goes a long way to how we answer the problems that we face. Diagnosing the malady correctly is the first step on the road to health.

The Christian understands the world to be full of both happiness and suffering. Good alongside evil. Human beings have the ability to create, bring life, love well, and serve others. But at the very same time the heart of humanity, of each one of us, has been corrupted and all kinds of wrong happen to us, stay with us, and come out of us.

The Bible says that humans are valuable because they are made by a loving God. They are not a random collection of atoms. We are not accidents. And like tarnished silver, our value is not lost when our appearance has been marred.

At the very same time the Bible does not shy away from the reality of evil. Its pages are full of brokenness and hurting people.

And the God of the Bible did not remain distant from the suffering of the world, but entered into it and suffered himself.

This world, we know, is far from perfect. So how do we fix what is broken? Is it more knowledge? Is it a greater collective human effort? We will do anything: work harder, sacrifice more etc. Human history is full of marvellous efforts to this end but while they may have bandaged some wounds, they have not brought lasting health.

We have tried so much and we are left collectively exasperated and worn out. Who or what can we trust to bring us hope?

The problems that we face have proven to be huge. The answers that we require will need to be bigger still.

When we have exhausted the search for answers from within perhaps we should turn to answers from afar and when we do we can look, searchingly, at the life of a man who lived 2,000 years ago who suffered greatly for the people he loved and then astonishingly, after a brutal death, was raised to life once more. Invasive resurrection power at once affirms the value of human beings and offers a hope through a power that beats death and all its friends.

It’s preposterous. It’s extravagant. It’s utterly different. But isn’t this exactly the sort of solution we need for the problems of the world today? When all that is obvious to us has been tried perhaps it’s time to look beyond our own horizons. Perhaps we should consider placing our hope in our Maker who knows our blueprint, understands our weaknesses and our pain, and offers a plan for our redemption.

Sorted Magazine - September/October 2015This article first appeared in the September/October edition of Sorted Magazine.


Crossing Over

September 22, 2015 — Leave a comment

From the outside, they were just another group of men who would meet regularly at the pub. They met at the same place, most weeks, for a drink and a chat. They talked about all manner of things on their minds: what they were working on, what they were thinking about doing.

This story becomes more interesting when the men in the group are revealed. This little band of friends, mostly writers, were known as ‘The Inklings’, and they counted amongst their ranks men such as C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien.

For years Lewis and co. would spark off each other at the pub. Great literary works such as The Lord of The Rings (Tolkien) and The Chronicles of Narnia (Lewis) would have first been tossed around as emerging ideas here as these men drank their ale and smoked their pipes.

The pub which was the scene for these gatherings of the Inklings was The Eagle and Child, on St. Giles in Oxford. Well, on one particular day the Eagle – affectionately known as ‘The Bird and Baby’ – ran out of beer. And of course a pub without beer is bordering on useless so the Inklings tried other pubs around the city before settling on the Lamb and Flag, directly opposite the Eagle and Child. The Inklings crossed over the road and never looked back.

For C. S. Lewis, one of the chief members of the Inklings, crossing the road in pursuit of a drink marked a fairly insignificant change. However, a much greater “crossing over” was to become the central defining point of his life.

Lewis first arrived in Oxford, as a student in 1917, a committed atheist. But after 10 years or so things began to change. He was challenged by Christian writers and his friends – in particular J. R. R. Tolkien – to reconsider his position. Lewis had originally dismissed Christianity because he failed to see how it could hold together rationally. Yes, Lewis was a man of incredible imagination who could write exotic sci-fi tales and stories of imaginary worlds far away, but he was also endowed with razor-sharp logic. For Lewis, belief in God had to make sense intellectually to hold any merit.

However, when pressed to examine his beliefs he found that perhaps they weren’t as well-founded as he had first thought. He had believed that Christianity wasn’t properly grounded, but had he done enough investigation to fully justify that position? Did he hold that intellectual position for weak reasons, or for strong?

With time Lewis came to see that not only was his lack of belief in God not properly thought through, but that also the intellectual coherence of Christianity started to emerge more clearly after closer inspection.

What followed – after much walking, smoking, drinking, and discussing (naturally) – was a conversion to Christianity at the end of the 1920’s, entirely against the line of his imagined future but totally in keeping with his observations. Of all the people taken by surprise by this, Lewis was perhaps the most astounded. He records that when he finally made the switch he felt that he was indeed the most “reluctant convert in all England”.

Two years ago a plaque was laid for Lewis in Westminster Abbey to commemorate his life. The words chosen to adorn the plaque were taken from an essay Lewis wrote in 1944: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” It was Christianity’s explanatory power of the way the world is, the way Lewis was, and a hope for the future that convinced him to cross over from his atheism. After properly examining Christianity Lewis found it to be emotionally and rationally satisfying. His reason and his emotion now pointed to a truth he originally had denied. It took a step of humility, but Lewis followed the evidence to its natural conclusion.

C. S. Lewis has inspired millions of people through his stories, but perhaps the greatest inspiration he left us was his courage to find the truth about God and to commit to what he found.

Sorted Magazine - July/August 2015This article was first published in the July/August edition of Sorted Magazine.


Striking A Nerve

September 15, 2015 — Leave a comment

What is the one thing about you that is off-limits? Even your closest friends know not to talk to you about this. It’s personal and it’s private and it is not open for discussion.

It’s not that you’re ‘closed off’. Just careful with certain parts of who you are. After all, it is wise to be careful, isn’t it?

One area we tend to cover up contains the things in our lives that we don’t like. Perhaps this is what we call shame. You could be in debt, or you messed up at work, or there’s emotional pain from things long ago that prevent real relationship with those persons involved.

But equally, our hopes and dreams, those that are left, are often cocooned in emotional bubble wrap. We store them like the wedding china, unused for fear of breaking them and not being able to find a replacement.

Like a squirrel buries their nuts before the coming winter, we can bury our deepest thoughts and feelings, and like some of those squirrels, often forget all about them.

We think that they’re safe, deep down, out of the way. We’re unaware though, of how these emotions seep through us, like unsecured toxic waste. We think we’re immune to their presence because they’re buried deep, but every now and again they become exposed.

Sometimes it’s someone else doing the digging. Maybe it’s our wife, or a friend prodding a little too deeply. It’s amazing what people find when they get under the surface (just ask the Crossrail guys who have recently finished the new train tunnels below London).

More often than not however these things are exposed by complete accident. In the fields of Flanders after WWI, the frosty winters were known to bring up unexploded shells to just below the surface. The Belgian farmers knew all-too-well about this annual menace and the problems they posed to their ploughing.

Sometimes it’s a friendly, unassuming conversation that touches something of us we had forgotten about long ago. And sometimes it’s something with a little more bite.

At the beginning of the year Stephen Fry was interviewed on Irish television channel RTE and when asked what he would say to God were he ever to visit the pearly gates of Heaven, he replied vehemently, “Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?”

Of course Fry isn’t the first to voice this age-old problem in such strong terms. But the response seemed unnaturally large. Newspaper articles and blogs were published in reply and the clip from the show went viral on YouTube.

For many people Fry touched on a nerve. His words shattered the flimsy structures constructed around such buried thoughts like, ‘why did I have to experience that horrible thing?’

There are some big questions in this world that aren’t easy to answer. There are also big parts of who are that we’d rather leave unquestioned. But it was Socrates who told us that ‘an unexamined life is not worth living’.

Sometimes the thought of sifting through our inner person feels about as fun as receiving a do-it-yourself-molar-extraction kit for Christmas. Thankfully, we’re not left to our own unskilled hands to do this. In an ancient Hebrew poem a request is made of God: “Search me, O God, and know my heart!”

The God of the universe, who made you and knows you and loves you and has complete skill in all matters, wants to work with you to uncover who you really are. If you let him he will deal with your unexploded ordinance and he will unearth your buried treasures.

God’s love frees us from the fear of tough questions, from the pain of deep memories, and it frees us to be the person he created us to be. Life is too precious to live it in avoidance of who we really are, so why not, as the Good Book says, ‘cast all our burdens upon him.’ It’ll be a load off your mind.

Incidentally, if you are interested in the problem of pain, might I recommend ‘Why Suffering? Finding Meaning and Comfort When Life Doesn’t Make Sense’ (Faith Words, 2014) by Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale as an excellent starting point on the subject.

Sorted Magazine - May/June 2015This article was first published in the June/July edition of Sorted Magazine.


Follow Me

September 9, 2015 — Leave a comment

Have you ever introduced a friend to a favourite sport of yours? I tried this with my wife (then fiancée) during the Six Nations last year. “It’ll only take one game and she’ll be hooked,” I mused. But which game would I choose? It couldn’t be Scotland v. England (I have split loyalties). Now, I love the way the French play, but only when they decide to play which frankly left too much to hope for so they were out of the question. I settled on Ireland v. Wales thinking that’s where the magic will happen.

It’s all easier with hindsight of course. Looking for the best examples we would all (Brits, that is) pick the 2005 Ashes over 2014 or the 5-1 against Germany over most-any World Cups finals post 1966 etc. When we want to sell something we’re going to look to the best example we can find and offer that moment as our chief evidence.

I’ve found this pattern true of most things. We point to the best of something – be it a product, or a sport, or an idea – when we’re seeking to promote it. Advertisers tell us what their thing does best of all. The fact sheets tend to be stacked with the favourable measurements at the top.

We do this too with religion when we point out the merits of a particular faith. Ideas and arguments from every viewpoint seek to offer the top example. It seems to me however that in all of the selling and highlighting of religions, only one really does stand out because, well, it just goes about things differently.

I am of course talking of Christianity. At the heart of the Christian faith is a man who claimed to be God. This is a claim that none of the leaders of other major world religions dared to make.

Every religion, or non-religion, has its best examples and top arguments. Christianity however claims that best isn’t good enough and offers ‘perfect’ instead. Jesus Christ was so bold to claim that not only was he a great man and therefore a great example, but more than that he was a perfect man and therefore the only example.

That’s why the early Christians would talk about the gospel – literally, the good news – of Jesus Christ. He was and is the example.

Christians follow Jesus’ example of offering the same Good News. But instead of pointing to ourselves, we point to Jesus.

A Christian following Jesus may themselves be an excellent illustration for the Good News, but their example really, ultimately, looks past. Christians aren’t saying ‘We’re perfect, follow us’ but rather ‘Jesus is perfect, follow Him’. The life of a Christian ought to serve as a pointer to Jesus himself.

Of course, it’s not always that simple and Christians, who though friends with Jesus and becoming more like him, are still human and get things wrong too. It was Mahatma Gandhi who famously pointed out, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

But it was Saint Augustine who wisely pointed that we should “never judge a philosophy by its abuse”. The testimony in a Christian’s life should be that he or she isn’t the same person that you knew last month, last year, 10 years ago etc. That over time there is evidence of change into a person of character more similar to Jesus’ own.

When Jesus called his first disciples he said to them, “Follow me.” Over time Christ’s followers came to see that his invitation wasn’t just a good idea from a good leader, but the most valuable summons ever from the most perfect of men.

Sorted Magazine - March/April 2015This article first appeared in the March/April 2015 edition of Sorted Magazine


Truth Under Fire

March 16, 2015 — Leave a comment

On the 26th October the Union Flag was lowered at Camp Bastion. The next day the last of the British troops left Helmand Province. Over the following days and weeks many newspaper articles, television documentaries, and pub conversations assessed the overall value of the British military campaign in Afghanistan. “What did we achieve?” “Was it worth the cost?” “Will our efforts have a positive result on the country next year, in 5 years, in 20 years?”

Lowering the flag at Camp Bastion

Lowering the flag at Camp Bastion

The British Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, said that some mistakes were made in our 13 years in Afghanistan but that many good achievements have been made also.

The stories of tragedy, heroism, dismay, and hope have been coming to us for over a decade and soon it will be the job of historians to disseminate all of what we know and present the case for the success or failure of the overall mission.

This won’t be an easy task but it is driven forward by a strong collective sense of a nation seeking to know the truth of a situation for many so far removed from their day to day lives, yet so frequently punctuating their evenings through news broadcasts.

It’s because conflict is so costly that we won’t accept cheap answers. When lives are on the line suddenly quick-fire soundbite-replies to the big questions don’t cut it. When casualties of war mount up there grows a vested concern that truth not be listed among the number lost.

It is right to probe, to strain, to strive for the truth in these situations. With knowledge comes understanding and we hope wisdom for the future.

War has a way of framing questions rather bluntly. It also reveals how casual we can become with the search for truth in other, less immediately affected areas of our life.

Conflicts are violent and immediate and the questions we ask surrounding them are marked in the same way. Yet our own lives also have huge questions that perhaps don’t strike us with the same urgency. What we live for, what rules we live by, what hope we look to – these massive questions that religions seek to answer are treated rather shallowly.

They’re not so ‘in our face’ but surely they are of equal value to the questions that we ask of conflicts? Perhaps even more so?

Yet instead of investigating, searching, and seeking to discover the truth for these big questions so often we are satisfied merely to find what works for us and leave the bloke next to us to find his own way too. We wouldn’t want to interfere too much in his life and we certainly wouldn’t want to invite too much attention from him!

In our pseudo-civil attempts to restrict any meddling in our private affairs we end up demoting truth from her true authoritative position. If all we want is something that works for us then we answer the largest questions of life with simple pragmatism, disconnected from what may be true. Or another way of thinking about it is that unhappy with the prospect of having to bend our lives to a superior truth, we decide to make ourselves the sole arbiter of what’s true for us.

Can you imagine if we treated the Afghanistan conflict in the same way? If in the House of Commons instead of debate and counter-point, each Member were granted their own viewpoint regardless of its correspondence to the reality of the situation? This nation would deride the self-serving views of our politicians swiftly and trust would be destroyed.

Questions surrounding the things most valuable to us deserve the best answers. The struggle with the biggest questions of life is a noble quest and to shortcut the search by setting aside truth for personal preference risks a betrayal of the truth and an act of personal deception.

Sorted Magazine: Jan/Feb 2015 EditionThis article first appeared in the January/February 2015 edition of Sorted Magazine.



Where were you when you first experienced elation? I have vague, early-childhood memories of blissful birthdays with cakes shaped as Subbuteo pitches and parties at water parks. In my teenage years I hit new heights kayaking down French alpine rivers, dodging rocks and trees, mostly the right way up, to be rewarded with pure adulation coursing through my veins at the finish.

Yours truly, finding the slot, French Alps (2003)

Yours truly, finding the slot, French Alps (2003)

Of course, in sports, there was the 2003 Rugby World Cup final, that 5-1 against Germany, the Miracle at Medinah, Super Saturday, and the 2012 Autumn Internationals when Tuilagi opened up the All Blacks’ back line like a bayonet through a pack of ravioli.

When I recall these memories I find my mind has assiduously mapped out the little details surrounding the events. It was as if I was a little bit more conscious, a little bit more alert. I felt more alive; and it felt good.

It’s little wonder that we spend good money and much time pursuing things in life that leave us feeling good. It is, after all, nice to feel good. Great experiences, like a concert or climbing a mountain or a fantastic holiday, cause us to seek for further great experiences.

When we come back from our travels the first question often is, “Where next?” The pursuit of pleasure leads us to open up our wallets and map out our time with war-room-like efficiency.

Now currently, we are told that around 10% of people in Britain attend some kind of church once a month (2013 stats). On that basis, one could conclude that our country isn’t particularly religious, yet our behaviours I think tell another story.

Consider the humble football fan. He supports the team his father did, and lives locally enough to make it to most of the home games. He has a season ticket, and a draw in his bedroom with team shirts of years gone by. After the game he comes home and turns on the TV to watch the highlights and catch up on the rest of the league.

Through the ups and downs and the comings and going of new managers, he sticks by his team. Visiting regularly, checking websites, inviting his friends, and spending his cash. Now what about that is not religious?

And to a certain extent I’m with him. Saturday evening, when the world is a little quieter, I quite like a bit of Match of the Day. I like the routine, the familiarity, the ‘quick fix’ of action, and of course, catching the goals. And apparently I’m not the only one with around seven million viewers tuning in over the weekend.

Having now been going for 50 years, it really has become an institution. In the recent ‘Match of the Day at 50’ program, Thierry Henry when asked about his thoughts on the show replied, “It’s like going to church, you know, it’s a religious thing. It’s part of the culture in England.” I think he’s spot on.

Match of the Day

“It’s like going to church, you know, it’s a religious thing. It’s part of the culture in England.”

And in this statement I think lies the fact that Britain is indeed a religious country. It is a religious country because it is a country of worshippers. No, it might not be the Christian God or another religion that the majority of the people turn to for comfort and hope, but it will be something.

In our lives we have these sunshine-through-the-clouds moments, mini-revelations or periods of elation perhaps. We stare at them, think on them, analyse and run after them because we are looking to orientate our lives in a certain direction.

We worship. The choice we have then is what or who do we worship? What or who is truly worthy to be worshiped? Many of us are content to fix our eyes on the moment, the experience, the snippet of ecstasy and miss the author of all these things, God.

The next time you hit a high, enjoy it. Enjoy it and be thankful, and then, perhaps the next day when you wake up, why not begin to investigate why you are grateful and to whom you ought to be offering your thanks?

Sorted Magazine - November/December 2014This article first appeared in the November/December 2014 edition of Sorted Magazine.



Sorted Magazine - September/October 2014

Published in the Sep/Oct 2014 edition of Sorted Magazine

New is cool. At least, this is what the advertisers would have us believe. If you don’t have the latest thing then you’re not ‘with the times’. And do you know what? So often the advertisers are right. My current phone is a better version of my old phone. It has a longer battery life and a crisper display. In a few months I’m sure I will be told about the latest development and how it’s faster or bigger or slimmer etc. and how much I need it. The march of technological progress soldiers on.

This progress requires change. The change ought to be an improvement on the old, but at the very least it needs to be different from the old. It needs to be distinct. If what is new isn’t different then it becomes hard to sell. If Volkswagen were to believe that their Golf has finally ‘arrived’, that it couldn’t possibly be any better, that it should look and perform this way forever, it would in a few years time look dated and most likely be out-performed by its rivals.

In a world obsessed with things and the production and selling of them, an environment of constant change must be manufactured to keep the supply chains rolling.

Now, change is good, but only whenever it actually is good. I like that my latest car is more reliable than the car it replaced and that the fuel economy is better. I like my new running shoes because they fit well and make running almost a joy again. All change that is good is only good if it is in fact an improvement upon what it is replacing.

But from a marketing perspective change doesn’t need to be good. It only needs to exist. If we can be told that we need something new, simply because it is new, then we can be persuaded to buy it independent of an analysis of what it actually is and whether it really is any good.

What is sold to us today is most definitely a way of life, being offered through the product being advertised. Adverts don’t just sell to us on the merits of the product, they seek to convince us that we will be better people because we have and use these products. In this world we live in we are told that change is good and life is better when we are playing with the latest thing.

In the current climate, it has therefore become all too easy to assume that things that are old are of lesser value than things that are new. Your first TV will most likely not be as good as your current TV. But so too have changed what you used to think about, say, politics, or your goals in life, or where your ultimate holiday should be. Those old ideas have been replaced by newer, improved, and updated versions. The naivety of our youth is superseded by the wisdom gained throughout life.

Except that not all things that are new are good, are they? Ancient Roman buildings in England have outlived modern buildings, hundreds and hundreds of years younger. I’m sure that in the 1970s, a period I blissfully have no memories of, the taste of the day in interior design was a real high point! Those greens, harvest golds, and burnt oranges etc.. Fashions come and fashions go.

So too the ideas, philosophies, and religions of our culture, they ebb and flow. They may be in fashion one moment, and out the next. But we would be foolish to dismiss the great ideas of our past, of our heritage, simply because we prefer the new.

The great author C. S. Lewis was brought to task by his friend Owen Barfield when, as a younger man, he dismissed Barfield’s viewpoint simply because it was old. Lewis came to realise that he was engaging in “chronological snobbery”. When contemplating an old fashion or idea Lewis wrote that,

“You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood.”

Perhaps in our nation today faith in the Christian God, although once popular, is now no longer fashionable. We would do well to heed Lewis’ advice and not dismiss it because of its age or association with previous generations. It must be investigated and examined on its own merits.

This next time you’re at your Dad’s house, look at his photos – the ones in the older albums. Do you see how silly those trousers look? But be warned, the next laugh you’ll hear will be in 30 years when the future generation simply cannot fathom what we were thinking when we donned skinny jeans.

What seems right in our day will seem old in the future. Change cannot alone be the measurement for truth. We might cringe when we look back on our old fashion choices, but how much more will it hurt when we realise we dismissed God only because he was ‘so last century’.

Double Take

January 26, 2015 — Leave a comment
Sorted Magazine - July/August 2014

Published in the July-August 2014 edition of Sorted Magazine

“Content plus context equals meaning.” Whilst I may have forgotten much about ‘Prohibition America’ from my ‘A’ Level History class, these words still rattle around my mind. This maxim (another word I learnt in that class) of course rings true not just for a history essay, but for nearly everything in life.

For example, my first trip to the United States reinforced this point well. ‘Football’, ‘Cider’, ‘Pants’, ‘Biscuits’ etc. etc. When making the jump across the ocean, familiar words take on new identities faster than Clark Kent could ever change costumes. I found that it is entirely possible to have a conversation where you and the other party are using the same terms and yet are talking about something completely different.

Of course, we don’t have to cross borders for this to happen. My friend was once engaged in polite conversation with a senior member of the Royal Navy at some fancy evening event. Somehow or another the conversation turned to piracy, which both my friend and the top brass noted was a very real problem. A spirited conversation then ensued, and it was only after 5 minutes or so that it dawned on my mate that perhaps they were talking about different subjects. It turns out that the potential strategies for dealing with DVD fraudsters and Somalian armed gangs are strikingly similar …

Getting to the crux of a matter requires us to both hear what is being said about an issue and then also to understand what is meant by what is being said. Understanding this distinction, comprehending the context, is at the heart of good communication. Good listeners repeat back what they have heard, to check and see that their take reflects the intentions of the person making the statement.

The reason why misunderstandings occur is that we see the world and all the information therein through our own eyes and fail to realise that other people see things differently. When I hear a statement about something, the words that my ears pick up are run through my mind and all of its collected experiences and training, not to mention journeying through my emotions as well. We all hear through a contextual filter.

This applies to everything. The way that I view the world – my worldview – is entirely unique. It is a combination of millions of shaping influencers and factors. It shares many things in common with my friends, my family, my countrymen – but the nuanced version of the way that I see the world is my very own.

All the Big Questions of life pass through our worldview. Questions of meaning, hope, destiny, love etc. What you hear when I say ‘Jesus Christ’ depends entirely on your worldview. You could hear ‘prophet’, ‘hoax’, ‘myth’, ‘good man’, or ‘God’, to name a few.

The above answers can’t all be true however – Jesus can’t be both a myth and a good man, for example – so some people’s worldviews can be faulty. They need to be updated. Assumptions need to be suspended, the content re-visited, and the context re-evaluated.

Christianity invites this investigation. It wants to be examined. It is rich in both content and context. It is a faith based on evidence – not a blind leap, and certainly not a hasty assumption.

It turns out that there is a lot more to Prohibition America than a cursory watching of The Untouchables would let on (despite being a great film). Expanding my understanding through proper investigation helped me to go someway to getting a clearer idea of what really happened.

Perhaps in this way faith in Jesus Christ deserves a second glance, a double take. Don’t miss the meaning of the message of Christianity because of a deficient worldview constructed from assumptions. It doesn’t work well for essays; it’s potentially tragic for life.

Published in the May-June 2014 edition of Sorted Magazine

Published in the May-June 2014 edition of Sorted Magazine

I recently started watching Homeland. I think it was the combination of Damian Lewis donning US military uniform again as well as the award nominations that provoked my curiosity. And wow. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t what I found myself watching. Homeland is brutal. Sure, there’s the violence and the sex etc. but it was the uncertainty of the plot that was most assaulting. I wasn’t sure who to cheer for. But I kept watching, certain that at any moment Captain Winters would emerge and save the day.

Stories surrounding military conflicts – be it Band of Brothers or Homeland – are gripping because they are stories of struggle. If truth, hope, and beauty are lights that guide us then in wartime those things can become awfully dim. How people struggle to find that light through the chaos is the stuff of inspiration to authors and screenwriters.

War for those involved in them is not a neat thought experiment but rather a brutal testing ground of all that you believe and hold to be true. Perhaps this is why those that cling on to hope through turmoil provide us with some of the greatest film plots.

But you don’t need to have been to war to know the struggle for the good and true is within us. Even in the day-to-day rhythm of life we can ask ourselves what the purpose of our existence is all about. War may present these questions both suddenly and acutely but equally the monotony of life can provoke the formation of an unshakeable question: ‘why?’ ‘What’s the point?’

When we watch stories of triumph over despair on our screens we watch them actively looking for resolution. We want the hero to win, to overcome the odds, to persevere at all costs. Be it Batman, or Oskar Schindler, or Andy Dufresne – we long for the good to defeat the bad. There is something within us that agrees that it is right and noble to seek and strive for the good of a cause, a person, or an ideal.

That we all believe in a concept of goodness points us to a greater reality. The desire to cheer for a winner, the good side, makes perfect sense if there is, ultimately a good side.

It is a worthwhile thing to strive for the good and lament the wrong but the advantage the person of faith has an advantage here. For him, the entire framework of right and wrong makes sense being grounded in God.

Without God – as moral standard-setter – we can cheer for a winner but how can we ever be sure we’re cheering for the right side? If there is no standard to judge by, no ultimate right and wrong, then is there really any such thing as a right side at all or is our belief in goodness just a construct or perhaps based only on group consensus? Here’s hoping you’re in the right group – and the strongest and largest group – if that’s the case, because history points out that there the majority often get their way.

The moral tensions teased out on our screens taps into a deep desire in all of us, a desire based on an understanding of some kind of moral code, an order. That these things resonate so strongly with us suggest that we are wired in such a way to know right from wrong, which in turn points to a standard beyond ourselves and our cultures.

God provides a grounding point for morality that makes sense of this world as we experience it. Our searches for meaning that come from within ultimately point us to look outside of ourselves and outside of this world. The moral clues in all of us serve as a signpost to the true nature of reality. And with morality secured, there is hope that the winning side may be found and known.

Now, if only I could work out who is on that winning side in Homeland. But that will have to wait for another season or two I fear.

March-April Edition of Sorted Magazine

Published in the March-April 2014 edition of Sorted Magazine

Not so long ago it was popular to believe that the universe simply always existed. Carl Sagan famously stated that,

“The Cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.”

But then along came a chap by the name of Georges Lemaître – working with ideas from one Albert Einstein – who said that actually, it looks like the scientific evidence points towards a starting point. We now commonly refer to this point in history as ‘The Big Bang’.

Science  – and our experience – points to the fact that the Universe began to exist. And this is quite interesting, because if we take things further it points beyond this, to the existence of God. When all of this is put together, this is known as the Kalam Cosmological Argument.

1st Point: Whatever begins to exist has a cause

Think of something, anything. Anything at all. Now think about how that ‘thing’ got there. In your mind or in reality, we instinctively know that things do not just pop into existence out of nothing.

My credit card bill is proof of this. It didn’t just get appear out of nowhere, it is the result of a cause (rightly or wrongly, but that’s a different argument). Likewise, the means to pay my bill won’t just spontaneously appear out of thin air, no matter how hard I wish it. Things that begin to exist have a cause.

2nd Point: The Universe has a beginning

Cue Einstein and friends with their scientific research. Science, as the exploration of what is, is of great help to us with this point. Established scientific theories today, such as the redshifts found by Hubble (the man, not the telescope), point towards a beginning for the universe. This is very much in agreement – not opposition – with faith.

Additionally, we can take this second point to be true by employing a bit of logic.

If the Universe has always existed and did not have a beginning then the history of the universe would be infinite. Sounds good, but as none of us possess the talents of Mr Buzz Lightyear, it is impossible for us to traverse an actual infinite.

Let my try to explain. Mr Chris Evans, of current BBC Radio 2 radio fame, is known for his large collection of Ferraris, all painted that classic Ferrari colour, white. Imagine that one morning Chris wakes up and finds that his collection has expanded and now he possesses an infinite number of Ferraris (for some of us, believing we could own just one Ferrari is the same as believing we could own an infinite number of those beautiful machines).

Chris is happy and as he muses over this increase in his collection he decides to break his own rules and paint every other car in his (infinitely long) garage, oh, I don’t know, red. Chris now has one red Ferrari sitting next to a white Ferrari and on and on …

Some time (in the not-too-distant future, perhaps), the BBC is faced with budget cuts. Chris has to take a pay-cut and decides to self off half of his beloved collection. The red cars must go. So Chris sells all of his red Ferraris and is left with just the white. But how many cars is Chris left with? He had an infinite amount of cars and removed half of them. What is half of infinity? It’s not a number, like 6, because that could be doubled to produce another number, which would not be infinity. Chris still has an infinite amount of white cars. So what happened with those red ones? What exactly did Chris lose?

The reality is, actual infinite series of anything just don’t exist. In this way, logically, the universe cannot have existed forever and had an infinite series of past events leading to the present moment.

3rd Point: The Universe therefore has a cause

We have shown the universe has to have had a beginning, and in point one we showed that all things that have a beginning have a cause. Let’s think about the nature of this cause.

The cause of the existence of the Universe must have been very powerful (to create the Universe from nothing), outside of time (the cause created time as well), as well as existing infinitely.

What’s more, this first cause, as well as having amazing attributes, must also be in some way personal because it chose to create the universe. An eternal, extremely-powerful thing doesn’t have to do anything. Nothing can compel something that large to do anything, in much the same say that I can’t force Martin Johnson to smile – or do anything for that matter – unless he wants to do it himself.

Let there be light

The Kalam Cosmological Argument doesn’t reveal a specific deity nor point to only one religion, but what it does do is turn on a light.

One can add – and we will this year – further arguments to this one, building a cumulative case for the existence of God, outside of Scripture and the historical record. As these lights turn on, take a look and see what they reveal. Perhaps they will lend themselves as starting points on a journey.

Perhaps you will discover that there are good signs within this universe that point to the existence of the divine, outside of space and time, incredibly large, complex, and powerful, commonly referred to as ‘God’.