The Kingdom of God is breaking in

posted in: Tony Thompson | 0

I recently read a provocative blog from my friend Matt Hosier, you can read it yourself here:

http://thinktheology.co.uk/blog/article/not_pinker_but_brighter

 

Matt himself was commenting on a book he had read, Factfulness by Hans Rosling. Rosling charts how the human condition has improved alongside economic growth and the pessimism most people feel about the world is entirely misplaced.

 

“Whether it’s the fact that across the world life expectancy is now better than 72 years, or that whereas in 1962 there were only 200 playable guitars for every million people but 11,000 by 2014, Rosling’s message is: things are good – and getting better!”

 

Rosling says that we are incredibly poor judges of what is happening in the world, given multiple choice questions on the subject the most educated people score worse than would a chimpanzee answering at random. He says that various agencies have a vested interest in making things look worse than they are, e.g. aid agencies do so to raise awareness and cash.

 

The point that my friend Matt made, that I found challenging, is that Christians can also be guilty of saying things are worse than they are due to our own vested interests!

“The world is going to hell in a handcart – turn to Christ! This isn’t just an occasional slip-up but central to so much of the evangelical narrative, even as evangelicals have played such a significant role in creating the conditions that have allowed for the improvements Rosling describes.”

Whilst the gospel is especially relevant for the poor, it isn’t needed only because people are poor. Everyone needs Christ, whether rich or poor. The gospel isn’t an insurance policy against a world gone bad. The fact that things are getting better is a sign that the gospel is working. Disease being pushed back, longevity increasing, and education available for all are signs of the kingdom breaking in.  They are also a sign that things will continue to get better and is going to be a lot better still.

We can and must declare a positive and optimistic message. The gospel works, God is breaking in. Jesus is Lord. Hallelujah.

Written by Tony Thompson

Reimagining Britain: Foundations for Hope

posted in: History, Tony Thompson | 0

I have recently read the book with the same title as this blog, the book was written by Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury. It is an important and thought-provoking book, I would even say a brave book, well worth a read.

The premise of the book is that due to several factors, not least the vote to leave the European Union, the UK is at an important point in our history similar to where we found ourselves after WW2. We need to “reimagine Britain”, and the Christian faith needs to play an important role.

He recognises the task is even more complicated than it was in 1945, this is because

The differences between now and 1945 are both external and internal. Internally, society has become a great deal more complicated.

Today’s society is faster, more complicated, more independent and more confused.

Religious observance is far weaker, yet where it occurs, far more committed.

His concern is that,

Reimagining will inevitably happen. It may occur thoughtlessly through the mere passage of time, in which case it is likely to be bad. Values in this case would be dictated by the powerful and rich, and imposed through self-interest.

He identifies the divisions within our society,

The over-65s are the Baby Boomers. They have good pensions, they have had relatively good jobs. Their debts and materialism were the foundations of the 2008 crash, which led to vast unemployment for those then aged 18 to 25. They have not constrained their consumption of the resources of the earth. Voting as they did in 2016, they committed the upcoming generation to a new adventure outside the EU, which the majority of young voters had been against.

He talks about the adverse impact of faith leaving the public sphere,

The privatization of Christian faith and the consequent diminution of a national meta-narrative of virtue and vice, leading in some ways to the divorce of ends and means of policy, has led to an absolute lack of foundations to deal with numerous faiths, different cultures, globalized economies, and above all, to a world in which all values from around the planet confront us more rapidly and effectively than ever before. Public faith was and probably still is sometimes more surface than reality, at least in countries where its expression is a necessary part of holding power. Nevertheless, when faith is increasingly privatized, it leaves a vacuum which relativism in belief or a great plurality of incommensurable beliefs is unable to fill.

However, he is wise in how we change this,

The Church must never seek to compel but should always, in any political system, witness to the truth it believes that it knows and experiences.

We need to present an alternative to the hope offered by terrorism and he believes this is Christian hope, he does not  just state it but explains why

We need a narrative that speaks to the world of hope and not mere optimism, let alone simple self-interest, that enables us to play a powerful, hopeful and confident role, resisting the turn inwards that will leave us alone, despairing and vulnerable.

Reconciliation is the process by which diversity is accepted and even welcomed, without sliding towards oppression by the dominant power……….Reconciliation is the core of Christianity.

He then seeks to apply Christian principles to the building blocks of society – family; education; health; housing and economics before going on to tackle major issues we are facing, foreign policy; immigration; climate change; abortion; the relationship between different faith groups.

He is always practical, not just theoretical and he is always Biblical, seeking to show how the Bible is relevant to issues facing Britain today and how it should play its part in reimaging Britain, giving hope to the future of our nation.

E.g. He demonstrates how the book of Ruth and the parable of the Good Samaritan has things to say about our foreign policy and attitude to immigration. He uses the example of Rehoboam (son and successor to Solomon) as a lesson to politicians. He also applies the parable of talents and the prophecies of Jeremiah to the contemporary situation.

Encouragingly the book has received good reviews.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/mar/05/reimagining-britain-justin-welby-praiseworthy-vision-of-uk

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/apr/01/justin-welby-interview-reimagining-britain-archbishop-of-canterbury

Although some take the opportunity to have a dig, e.g. Rod Liddle in the Sunday Times.

Welby is not the sort of man to grasp a nettle firmly. He is perhaps the sort of man who will poke at it tentatively with his finger, a sure way of getting stung.

And Liddle’s conclusion,

But the only moral imperative I take from this is that the government should spend more money — well, sure, sure. But so easy to say. And, sadly, much of the rest is a painful equivocation.

Speaking in the public realm is not without cost! The importance of this book, in my opinion, is not in the details of what it advocates in the different areas dealt with, but in the principle that the Bible and Christians have a crucial role to play and that our voice needs to be heard. For us to be heard, we must speak out. Well done to Justin Welby for speaking out. I am challenged to identify ways that I need to speak out, may I challenge you to do the same.

Written by Tony Thompson

Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them

The 5th rule of Jordan Peterson’s book, 12 rules for life, is for parents.

As my friend Matt Hosier says “If you are a parent you must read it. And if you are not a parent but know someone who is, you need to persuade them to read it.”

Some of his wisdom is helpful not just parents.

But human beings are evil, as well as good, and the darkness that dwells forever in our souls is also there in no small part in our younger selves. In general, people improve with age, rather than worsening, becoming kinder, more conscientious, and more emotionally stable as they mature.

However, what he says to parents is important and necessary, especially as parents have so many other pressures on them that bringing up children can be neglected, especially younger children.

Children must be shaped and informed, or they cannot thrive. This fact is reflected starkly in their behavior: kids are utterly desperate for attention from both peers and adults because such attention, which renders them effective and sophisticated communal players, is vitally necessary.

it is disproportionately those who remain unsocialized effectively by age four who end up punished explicitly by society in their later youth and early adulthood.

He talks about the fears that stops parents being as effective as they could be.

But more often than not, modern parents are simply paralyzed by the fear that they will no longer be liked or even loved by their children if they chastise them for any reason. They want their children’s friendship above all, and are willing to sacrifice respect to get it. This is not good. A

Scared parents think that a crying child is always sad or hurt. This is simply not true. Anger is one of the most common reasons for crying.

He shares other insights as a clinical professional.

Infants are like blind people, searching for a wall. They have to push forward, and test, to see where the actual boundaries lie (and those are too-seldom where they are said to be).

We do our children a disservice by failing to use whatever is available to help them learn, including negative emotions, even though such use should occur in the most merciful possible manner.

He gives five principles regarding discipline.

1: limit the rules. 2: use minimum necessary force. 3: parents should come in pairs. 4l: parents should understand their own capacity to be harsh, vengeful, arrogant, resentful, angry and deceitful. 5. Parents have a duty to act as proxies for the real world—merciful proxies, caring proxies—but proxies, nonetheless.

He also gives a summary of what we should teach our children. It is a little tongue in cheek, but very profound and wise.

Do not bite, kick or hit, except in self-defence. Do not torture or bully other children, so you don’t end up in jail. Eat in a civilised and thankful manner, so that people are happy to have you at their house, and pleased to feed you. Learn to share, so other kids will play with you. Pay attention when spoken to by adults, so they don’t hate you and might therefore deign to teach you something. Go to sleep properly, and peaceably, so that your parents can have a private life and not resent your existence. Take care of your belongings, because you need to learn how and because you’re lucky to have them. Be good company when something fun is happening, so that you’re invited for the fun. Act so that other people are happy you’re around, so that people will want you around. A child who knows these rules will be welcome everywhere.

And that is why (because they haven’t been taught these things) so many children are unwelcome, pretty much everywhere. If you are a parent, don’t let this be your child.

Bottom line.

Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.

Written by Tony Thompson

Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today

This is Peterson’s 4th rule. He encourages to have realistic expectations of ourselves. Failure to do so is a major cause of unhappiness.

No matter how good you are at something, or how you rank your accomplishments, there is someone out there who makes you look incompetent.

What do you know about yourself? You are, on the one hand, the most complex thing in the entire universe, and on the other, someone who can’t even set the clock on your microwave.

However, we find this difficult to accept. We therefore struggle with comparisons.

When the internal critic puts you down using such comparisons, here’s how it operates: First, it selects a single, arbitrary domain of comparison (fame, maybe, or power). Then it acts as if that domain is the only one that is relevant. Then it contrasts you unfavourably with someone truly stellar, within that domain. It can take that final step even further, using the unbridgeable gap between you and its target of comparison as evidence for the fundamental injustice of life. That way your motivation to do anything at all can be most effectively undermined. Those who accept such an approach to self-evaluation certainly can’t be accused of making things too easy for themselves. But it’s just as big a problem to make things too difficult.

Another problem we have unrealistic expectations of ourselves in the future, and then comparing ourselves against our failure to match our expectations.

Because we always contrast what is with what could be, we have to aim at what could be. But we can aim too high. Or too low. Or too chaotically. So we fail and live in disappointment, even when we appear to others to be living well.

Perhaps happiness is always to be found in the journey uphill, and not in the fleeting sense of satisfaction awaiting at the next peak. Much of happiness is hope, no matter how deep the underworld in which that hope was conceived.

Aiming at the wrong thing has serious adverse consequences. It causes us to miss other things.

Perhaps what you really need is right in front of your eyes, but you cannot see it because of what you are currently aiming for.

We only see what we aim at. The rest of the world (and that’s most of it) is hidden. If we start aiming at something different—something like “I want my life to be better”—our minds will start presenting us with new information, derived from the previously hidden world, to aid us in that pursuit.

The answer to this, and therefore a key to happiness is –

Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.

 

Written by Tony Thompson

Make friends with people who want the best for you

This is the 3rd chapter of Jordan Peterson’s book and is about not casting your pearls before swine.

Peterson’s challenge is that I need to be more honest about why I help people and what that help achieves. Not something we often do, not something we encourage others to do. Sometimes we must be more honest in admitting helping is beyond us.

As Peterson says on motives

If I stay in an unhealthy relationship with you, perhaps it’s because I’m too weak-willed and indecisive to leave, but I don’t want to know it. Thus, I continue helping you, and console myself with my pointless martyrdom.

If you have a friend whose friendship you wouldn’t recommend to your sister, or your father, or your son, why would you have such a friend for yourself?

On recognising helping might be beyond us or ineffective

Before you help someone, you should find out why that person is in trouble. You shouldn’t merely assume that he or she is a noble victim of unjust circumstances and exploitation. It’s the most unlikely explanation, not the most probable.

I am not saying that there is no hope of redemption. But it is much harder to extract someone from a chasm than to lift him from a ditch. And some chasms are very deep. And there’s not much left of the body at the bottom. Maybe I should at least wait, to help you, until it’s clear that you want to be helped.

The way forward…….

It’s a good thing, not a selfish thing, to choose people who are good for you. It’s appropriate and praiseworthy to associate with people whose lives would be improved if they saw your life improve.

Don’t think that it is easier to surround yourself with good healthy people than with bad unhealthy people. It’s not. A good, healthy person is an ideal. It requires strength and daring to stand up near such a person. Have some humility. Have some courage. Use your judgment, and protect yourself from too-uncritical compassion and pity. Make friends with people who want the best for you.

I have not heard these thoughts expressed so clearly. They are challenging, Peterson obviously realises this. His answer.

But Christ himself, you might object, befriended tax-collectors and prostitutes. How dare I cast aspersions on the motives of those who are trying to help? But Christ was the archetypal perfect man. And you’re you. How do you know that your attempts to pull someone up won’t instead bring them – or you – further down?

Written by Tony Thompson

Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping

posted in: In The News, Tony Thompson | 0

This is a summary of chapter 2 of Jordan Peterson’s 12 rules for life in which he explains why, people are better at filling and properly administering prescription medication to their pets than to themselves.

It is difficult to conclude anything from this set of facts except that people appear to love their dogs, cats, ferrets and birds (and maybe even their lizards) more than themselves.

No one is more familiar than you with all the ways your mind and body are flawed. No one has more reason to hold you in contempt, to see you as pathetic—and by withholding something that might do you good, you can punish yourself for all your failings. A dog, a harmless, innocent, unselfconscious dog, is clearly more deserving.

Unlike us, predators have no comprehension of their fundamental weakness, their fundamental vulnerability, their own subjugation to pain and death. But we know exactly how and where we can be hurt, and why. That is as good a definition as any of self-consciousness.

Only man could conceive of the rack, the iron maiden and the thumbscrew. Only man will inflict suffering for the sake of suffering. That is the best definition of evil I have been able to formulate. Animals can’t manage that, but humans, with their excruciating, semi-divine capacities, most certainly can.

So, here’s a proposition: perhaps it is not simply the emergence of self-consciousness and the rise of our moral knowledge of Death and the Fall that besets us and makes us doubt our own worth. Perhaps it is instead our unwillingness—reflected in Adam’s shamed hiding—to walk with God, despite our fragility and propensity for evil.

But Christ’s archetypal death exists as an example of how to accept finitude, betrayal and tyranny heroically—how to walk with God despite the tragedy of self-conscious knowledge—and not as a directive to victimize ourselves in the service of others. To sacrifice ourselves to God (to the highest good, if you like) does not mean to suffer silently and willingly when some person or organization demands more from us, consistently, than is offered in return. That means we are supporting tyranny, and allowing ourselves to be treated like slaves. It is not virtuous to be victimized by a bully, even if that bully is oneself.

The solution – Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping.

Written by Tony Thompson

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