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Getting it wrong, or the importance of the resurrection

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Not too many years ago, for an application form, I had to describe my understanding of the Christian faith. More particularly, I was asked to describe how I understood the role of the death of Christ (and, therefore, of his resurrection). This is part of the answer I wrote:

(…) the defeating of death works as a warrant of Jesus’s divine nature and that God can indeed grant us eternal life.

And that was it. That was all I said about the point of resurrection.


Nothing about Christ continuing His ministry of intercession today. Nothing about the importance of Christ’s human (and bodily) nature. To me, all that mattered, in the resurrection, was that it was a proof of the claims Christ had made so far. A proof that he was who he claimed to be.

The tomb was empty solely that we may believe.

As if there hadn’t been plenty of other miracles up to that point, sufficient for our belief. Or, taking it from another perspective, if I don’t believe the miracles so far, there’s no way I’m going to believe the resurrection happened. I mean, Thomas Didymus couldn’t believe it until he saw it himself!

The very notion that the Empty Tomb is the proof for the claims of Christianity is nonsensical. Now, this does not mean that the historicity of the Empty Tomb does not matter – of course it does. If Christ did not rise from the dead, it would discredit his own claims (as they have been recorded). But it is a mistake to consider it as the main historical event upon which hinges the truthfulness of Christianity; and I believe it is therefore also a mistake to focus evangelistic apologetics on this particular event.

Now, the importance of resurrection is not what I want to focus on here. Here’s what matters here: I used to think the resurrection had little incidence for us today, at least when compared to Christ’s death itself. That opinion changed. Not as a traumatic experience, but as an exciting and bewildering eye-opening. It was good. This is not necessary true of all theological adjustments – particularly those that confront us to our sins – although, in my experience, it has generally been just that. Good. A relief of sorts. Because even when that new opinion diminishes our self-perception, it magnifies our perception of God and brings us closer to him.

So what I would like to say is this: theology is not fixed. Opinions can change. And we should be ready to re-assess our opinions, particularly about those things we believe do not matter. In my case, there are still a fair amount of matters of doctrine and practice I agree with but which I believe matter little (e.g., the virginity of Mary, the historicity of most of the Old Testament, glossolalia, the use of vestments, etc.). But for those, I’m ready to have my eyes opened.

Does that mean our personal theology should be subject to mere whims, always in flux and never fixed? No. There are some things which we can determine after careful consideration. As far as those are concerned, we should not have the arrogance to say that our way is the only way, but we should be able to assert them with confidence.

What matters here is that we’re not holding on to our old beliefs through sheer pride. We can get it wrong – and I certainly do sometimes. Let us simply recognise it.

Some slippery boots



Photo in the public domain, original on Pixabay

I love my boots. I’ve had them for ages: I remember wearing them in high school, so that’s at the very least 10 years ago (and yes, they still fit). For some reason, I forgot about them for a while, and rediscovered them a couple of years back. I use them when I need some warmth around my feet: canvas shoes just don’t cut it in the snow and rain. Which is pretty much all year round in Britain.

I have “broken into” them, that is, they are now shaped nearly perfectly to my foot. They are highly comfortable, and still waterproof, even though they look tattered. A bit of polish wouldn’t hurt, but I’ve never cared about looks that much.

The outer sole has lost a fair amount of its thickness, but still has a good inch on the heel (how thick they were to start off with, I have no clue, but it sure is impressive). The issue is, the tread has been worn through. The outer soles are now virtually smooth. To the point of being slippery over zebra crossings when it’s been raining. So imagine what it’s like with the recent snow and icy patches… (I only fell once!)

I am now convinced I need to go and see a cobbler (such a cool word) and try and get some new soles on them. And maybe give them a good polish all round, and new laces and everything.
Yet part of me is reluctant to do so:

  • reluctant to recognise that some form of change is needed. This is harder to do than just going to buy new shoes, because I could always choose that I don’t like my new shoes and go back to my old, tattered boots.
  • reluctant to recognise that that change will come from the outside. I will not have complete control over the type of sole, although I can be involved in the process (choosing, for instance, the pricier or cheaper option)
  • reluctant, ultimately, because even if it’s only the sole that gets changed, I will still have to break into it (the wearing off of the sole is irregular, there’s much more left on the inside). I will temporarily lose some comfort.

As you’re reading this, you are probably wondering where I’m going with this: no mention of the Bible, no mention of leadership, no mention of anything remotely Christian, and not one single mention of tea. The presence of “slipper” in the title should not really be enough to warrant being on here, either.

I could spell out the ways in which I think we sometimes have a similar experience in various aspects of our lives. I’m thinking particularly about Bible reading and theological hobby-horses because I feel, personally, that they are the areas that this attitude is the most dangerous, and the fall that follows the slip there is the most hurtful.

But I also think that this is the kind of experience that is extremely personal, and that it affects us all in quite different areas. So what I suggest, this once, is that you go back over this little story and think on all the details, how they might transfer to your own experience. Are there any areas where you got a little too comfortable? As far as the two areas I mentioned above are concerned, this should be transparent enough. And please, please share any insight.

I will highlight a few elements, by way of conclusion.

  • breaking into my boots was a good thing. Comfort was a good thing – until it left me hanging on to dangerous things. Intrinsically, there’s nothing wrong with looking for comfort!
  • my shoes were looking tattered. People could see that they were well worn, and (not in a mean way) someone had mentioned it. Looks sometimes betray a deeper problem – opening up to scrutiny could have helped before the snow fell.
  • the boots were completely safe, and still waterproof, as long as there was no icy patch.
  • I don’t have to replace all the boots – just the sole. Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water!

A calling to the obvious


Calling to “the ministry” seems fairly narrow from the outside. But think of a “vocation to teach”, for instance. Yes, it is already a specific calling, but from the inside, there is a very wide range of practices included in teaching.

For instance: what level are you called to teach? Will you teach Special Needs? What will you teach? Where? And far more importantly, why do you want to teach?

The job descriptions limit these questions in no small way. Depending on where you are employed, you will end up a maths teacher in charge of 11-12 year-old students, in a school where pastoral care is entirely the prerogative of someone else. I ended up teaching* measure theory to 3rd year undergrads. As part of this job, there is an amount of things I am required to do. It wouldn’t do to let anyone leave the room without a firm grasp on what is countable or not.

But the mistake, spelled out clearly in all books on ministry that I have read, would be to try and fit my calling into a job description. When I was teaching measure theory, I saw my mission as going further than simply getting the kids (yes, 3rd year undergrads are kids) to know how the axiom of choice leads to the existence of non-measurable sets (and, later, to Banach-Tarski paradox). Some see their mission as awakening the kids to the beauty of maths; I saw mine as allowing them to grow at their own pace, and feel at home with these beautiful concepts. And to get them through exams.

The Devil’s Staircase (I knew I could mix maths and theology somehow) – source: Wikipedia user Gargan, reused under CC license

Yet even as I write these words, I am restricting what my vocation was (in the context of undergrad teaching) to an outcome. To “doing” something. But it was far more than that, it was more than a job. It was, very much, creating ties with my students, allowing them to be themselves with me; and that was something that felt very natural (even though not every teacher is doing it).

That’s the issue I get when trying to articulate my calling to ordained ministry. I start by looking at the parts of ordained ministry that are in the job description (attending PCC meetings, giving sermons, leading and presiding worship, pastoral care, etc.). Yes, all that will be part of what I’ll be called to do; but it shouldn’t be my starting point in articulating my ministry. It should be what my calling later slots into.

Where it gets tricky, is that what I am called to is very deeply rooted in me. So much so that it feels natural, to the point that it seems wrong to spell it out. It feels wrong because, surely, everybody would agree with it, and it barely needs pointing out. So how do I identify the nature of my calling? Through conversation. Through discerning what is shared with everyone from what belongs to my calling.

Last Thursday, I engaged in conversation on whether helping the poor should include teaching them how to use the help – whether, to cut a long conversation short, financial support could be given to people without at the same time teaching them that grocery shopping should come before large screen TVs. I was passionately on the side that support should be unconditional (but that the offer to help should also include, as an option, that teaching). Because of many reasons, but mostly because I am passionate about letting people “come as they are”, and about allowing them to grow at their own pace, in an environment that welcomes them.

See, I thought that everybody would see the value in this approach. Because I thought it was self-evident, because I ended up hanging out with people who share this value.  And I thought failures to allow people  to come as they are, especially in the Christian context, were down to practical contingencies, to our fallen nature, and to limits to our own efforts. I was, clearly, wrong in that.

But talking with others about these things, on a side issue, has allowed me to identify this as a key aspect of my calling. Now I can start to reverse the discernment process from trying to see what aspects of the job fit with who I am, to seeing how these aspects of my calling (these things that feel self-evident to me) can be grown in the job descriptions; and why ordained ministry resonates with that and why I then have that calling.

Do you want to learn about measure theory? Let me know! :)

What are you called to? (we all have a calling, whether in the ministry or not!)

How do you discern your calling?

*I’m using teaching in a loose sense. I  was leading example classes/seminars.

Rejecting growth?


Growth is natural. Where there is no growth, there is wilting and ultimately death. This is as true of the physical realm as of the spiritual realm.

Photo credit: Danya Bateman, reused under CC license

Looking back, there have been a number of events which made me grow up. Big steps, if you like. But most of the time, the growth was incidental: sometimes I didn’t choose to go through what I went through; and sometimes I got involved in some activities because I thought I could be useful there. How those activities would change me was never present in my mind. There is one salient exception to this – one time where I was specifically seeking change, but “all” I did then was pray about it: there was no effort or drive in that willingness.

In the past year, though, I started to consciously and consistently seek growth. It was tough at the start. Growth is scary, because with growth comes differentiation, and therefore the fear of going down the wrong track. It is scary, because of misplaced feelings of inadequacy: because my growth requires both my own and other people’s investment. What if I’m squandering other people’s resources? is a question I’ve asked myself a fair few times recently, although this may simply be an expression of my reluctance to grow.
But I ended up going for it. I applied for a gap year type scheme, after much deliberation and prayer. Even though that fell through (due to the uncertainty associated with being a doctoral student), it was the trigger in a chain of decisions that came later. For the past few months, I’ve said yes to pretty much every opportunity to move forward, and got involved in – even sometimes started – some activities deliberately to gain some experience and simply go further.

I ended up being at a state where I’d say yes for the sake of saying yes – not out of a misplaced feeling of obligation, but because I was indiscriminately welcoming all opportunities for growth, particularly where church was involved. I got a phone call about a new project, and said I was interested before stopping and thinking of it in terms of where it would lead me; and it is only after a few days of prayer that I realised it wasn’t “for me”, even though it was an opportunity for growth.
I rejected growth: I said no for the first time in a few months, and not on simple, practical grounds.

But I did not reject growth altogether: I still grow in other projects, and keep on seeking growth elsewhere. I got involved in other projects I potentially would have neglected otherwise. This was pruning, not restraining.

And sometimes, that’s necessary – for growth.

How do you seek growth?

How do you cope with saying “no” to those golden opportunities?

The benefits of inbox zero


I love GMail – conversation grouping, labels, filters are all great. But one of the tools I’ll use the most is “Archive”. This removes a conversation from my inbox without deleting it. So when I’ve replied to an email, or dealt with whatever it required me to do, the conversation can get archived – leaving the inbox as some form of to-do list.

Emails will always keep on coming – but my inbox count becomes a nice, quick indicator of whether I’m letting emails pile up too much. So I would never be happy with more than 50 conversations in the inbox: this would generally trigger a culling of the inbox, until I was satisfied – generally with fewer than 20, sometimes 10 conversations left.

A couple of weeks ago, and for the first time since I set up the account, I reached Inbox Zero. The Holy Grail of email management. That’s not “Zero unread”, that’s “Zero I need to do something about”. Going for that absolute has had one very positive consequence:

Before, when I would get an email difficult to answer (because it’d make me look weak, or lazy, or simply because it was a complicated answer to give), I’d think “right, I’ll leave it in the Inbox and reply later”. The double digit target meant that it would sink to the bottom of those ten and take months before getting answered. I received one such email recently. It didn’t exactly require an answer, but it’s the kind I’d have been unsatisfied with until I’d have given one. Because I wanted to keep Inbox Zero, though, I gave an answer fairly swiftly.

Personal correspondence has been mightily improved too – this webcomic sums up pretty well my personal email habits up till Inbox Zero. Now I’ve had fruitful correspondence with a new friend with many emails exchanged over the past week. I’ve got back in touch with old friends.

Obviously, it means the time I spend on emailing has increased – but it has been massively worth it.

The lesson

Sometimes, we can lead ourselves to believe we’re keeping on top of our lives because we manage to keep our inbox down to single digits. There’s many areas that are concerned: sin, work, relationships, … And yes, to an extent, we are. But this got me thinking: what am I missing out on by letting those old conversations rot and rust at the bottom of my inbox?

What about you?