“The church exists to set up in the world a new sign which is radically dissimilar to the world’s own manner and which contradicts it in a way that is full of promise.”
“On the highest throne in the world, we still sit only on our own bottom.” Michel de Montaigne
Don’t judge me, but the other night when there was nothing else on TV, I fired up 4oD and watched the first episode of Scandimania, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s latest venture.
I’ve been keen to visit Scandinavia for a while now and honestly, I thought an hour in front of a harmless cookery programme with nice scenery would be pretty easygoing.
Then something surreal, and then profound, happened. Hugh – that’s right: eccentric, wonderfully British Hugh – met with Björn Ulvaeus, one of the members of Swede synth sensations ABBA. Out of that coming together of two people you’d never put in the same room, I found myself thinking about humility.
Lagom is a Swedish word that, as Björn explained, doesn’t really have an English equivalent. It’s one of those times when the English language doesn’t quite have the depth that so many other languages have. The closest it seems we can get in English when it comes to lagom is ‘just enough’.
More than just a word, for Swedes it signifies a way of life – a recognition that excess is often dangerous, that there is usually just the right amount of something to be had, that any more or any less is a waste.
Lagom got me thinking. Because for a long time, humility has been something I’ve struggled with. It seems that being humble is deeply ironic because the minute we think we’ve done well at being humble, we’ve shot ourselves in the foot. (That’s an over-exaggeration, of course). I want to be humble for many reasons, not least because it’s Biblical (see Luke 14:11 and more), but also because living humbly is a beautiful, counter-cultural thing. But to this point, I haven’t quite found a way to work out what humility looks like.
It’s not putting myself down, lamenting my shortcomings, highlighting my deficiencies. Equally, it’s not bragging about how good I am, how much I’ve prayed lately, how many people read my articles.
It’s just enough. It’s recognition that we have God-given talents and should use them and take pride in them, because we are using them for God. But at the same time it’s realising that what we have comes from God, and that our place before him is a humble one, where we lay down our lives for others and for God.
Lagom. Just enough.
This short interview with Tim Keller is incredibly insightful – in particular, this comment:
“They want community yet they aren’t willing to pay the price. I think that’s the best and the worst about your [the millennial] generation.”
What do you think? Do you agree?
“I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.” Markus Zusak
Words are powerful. So often it’s what people say to us that lingers in our minds, nagging away at us and chipping away our confidence. We’ve all been on the receiving end of a cutting comment or an unintentionally upsetting remark – and the chances are, we’ve made a few of those comments ourselves. Words have power.
The Hebrew language has a depth which our tongue can only dream of. There are seven words to describe love, with the three most commonly used drawing distinctions between friendship (raya), intimacy (dod) and commitment (ahava). This allows for intentional use of words to define a situation.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the words we use to define and describe our faith; the language we use when discussing our relationships with Jesus.
In the course of my day I can say I love Jesus, the sun, the West Wing, kiwi fruits and the book I’m reading. I can also hate tube delays, chocolate ice cream and the way a national news story is portrayed by the media.
Two words – love and hate – that we apply to countless situations, to the point where there is a danger they lose their meaning. Do I love God the same way I love kiwi fruits? No. Do I hate injustice the same way I hate chocolate ice cream? No.
Yet the limitations of language mean the lines are blurred.
The question is, does it really matter? Because truth be told, it seems unlikely a whole generation will be able to change the language they use to describe their feelings. Individually, I may be able to adjust what I say, but it will not make much impact on others.
Or will it?
You only have to spend a short amount of time in a group of people to notice certain phrases repeated again and again. Within a small, intentional group, language crosses the boundaries of our own tongues. What we say gets picked up. Repeated. Embedded. Accepted.
So maybe we do need to adjust our language. We cannot create a new set of words overnight, but we can adjust our intention and think about what we say, and how we say it. We can reserve reverence for the things that matter, and disdain for the things that deserve it.
It may not change the world, but it may just begin to change, in a small way, how we talk about God.
“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.” Rudyard Kipling
“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.” C.S. Lewis
This might sound bizarre. In fact, it is bizarre. But sometimes, when the sun is at its warmest and the skies at their bluest, I find myself longing for winter.
It’s not that I don’t love the sun. I cherish its warmth, the way the world feels more optimistic when it shines, the way it accentuates the vivid spectrum of colours that paint our world. Yet something within me pines for winter.
I think it is because when I am enclosed by the cold grip of winter and defined by the darkness that it brings, I appreciate and recognise the importance of the sun more.
Those things I love about the sun – its brightness, its warmth, its life – I recall only rarely while I can feel its gentle warmth upon my face. The value of the sun is diminished by its constant presence.
Rather like a low hum in a quiet room, after a while it becomes background noise, until it is either muted or drowned out by a louder voice.
This is not the sun’s fault, but my own.
From this, two challenges – or perhaps opportunities – present themselves. One is to continue to nurture the memory of the sun during the winter period. To recall its hope, remember its beauty, to cling to its life during the dark months.
The other is to recognise the presence of the sun while it shines. To not become so familiar with it that it becomes merely a background hue. To appreciate it in the here and now.
To bask in its warmth. To live in it.
“And then her heart changed, or at least she understood it; and the winter passed, and the sun shone upon her.” J.R.R. Tolkien
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements.
“Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
“There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful, than that of a continual conversation with God; those only can comprehend it who practice and experience it.” Brother Lawrence
“Prayer at its highest is a two-way conversation – and for me the most important part is listening to God’s replies.” Frank C. Laubach
“I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time – waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God – it changes me.” William Nicholson
“The Christian in the one whose imagination should fly beyond the stars.” Francis A. Schaeffer
I recently came across Pope John Paul II’s Letter to Artists, and from the moment I read it I wished I’d discovered it sooner. It’s a beautiful description and proclamation of the role art has to play in the life of Christians.
As more and more followers of Jesus use art to express their faith, John Paul II’s words provide inspiration, encouragement and support. Here’s a small section – you can read the full letter here.
“In order to communicate the message entrusted to her by Christ, the Church needs art. Art must make perceptible, and as far as possible attractive, the world of the spirit, of the invisible, of God. It must therefore translate into meaningful terms that which is in itself ineffable. Art has a unique capacity to take one or other facet of the message and translate it into colours, shapes and sounds which nourish the intuition of those who look or listen. It does so without emptying the message itself of its transcendent value and its aura of mystery…
“In Christ, God has reconciled the world to himself. All believers are called to bear witness to this; but it is up to you, men and women who have given your lives to art, to declare with all the wealth of your ingenuity that in Christ the world is redeemed: the human person is redeemed, the human body is redeemed, and the whole creation which, according to Saint Paul, ‘awaits impatiently the revelation of the children of God’ (Rom 8:19), is redeemed. The creation awaits the revelation of the children of God also through art and in art. This is your task. Humanity in every age, and even today, looks to works of art to shed light upon its path and its destiny.”
Letter of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to Artists
For a long time, I’ve wanted to write about grace. Yet it hasn’t happened, because I haven’t been able to find the words I need to express what I want to say.
Then I found this video, by the wonderful folks at Trinity Grace Church. It’s 3 minutes and 15 seconds long, and it encapsulates all I wanted to say and more.
I urge you to watch it.
“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” Mother Teresa
I recently heard a story of a lesbian and a Bishop who were part of a television debate. There was a huge amount of vitriolic argument, with the criticism aimed mostly at the Bishop. The majority of those present, both on the panel and in the audience, suggested his views on sexuality, equality and ethics were outdated and bigoted.
Despite the abuse thrown his way – particularly on the issue of sexuality – the Bishop responded to each question with love, humilty and grace.
At the end of the debate the lesbian participant approached the Bishop, moved at how he had responded so gracefully. She said this:
“I would rather be disagreed with and loved than tolerated.”
The Bishop – despite having strong views on her sexuality – had treated her with love, grace and respect. He hadn’t judged her, hadn’t criticised her, hadn’t made her feel guilty. He had shown her love.
“Even when it isn’t popular, or it means we might be labeled or even attacked, we are called to speak the truth in love. We can no longer be voiceless.”
Jesus loves them. He forgives them. He rebukes those who considered themselves righteous, the Pharisees.
But to those who were expecting to be condemned, Jesus only shows love.
I wonder what our worlds would look like if that was how we treated people. I wonder what my world would look like if that was how I treated people.
If I was quick to love, slow to judge, even slower to condemn.
After all, that’s what Jesus did.