Flourishing in Faith: Theology Encountering Positive Psychology, edited by Gillies Ambler, Matthew P. Anstey, Theo D. McCall and Mathew A. White, is a compilation of essays from various authors which came about as a result of its namesake conference in 2014. This conference, and the subsequent book, had one purpose: “to explore the relationship between the Christian tradition and the emerging field of positive psychology, a branch of psychology that conducts scientific inquiry into factors that help individuals, communities and organizations to thrive.”
A fundamental truth of Christianity is that we are loved by God not because we deserve this love, or have earned it, or have a quality inherent within us that in some way requires God to love us. We are just loved. Irrespective of who we are, what we are, what we have (or haven’t done), or what we think of ourselves, or for that matter, what others think of us. God loves us and in this love is true to the very character of the God who is love. (1John 4:7-21) This means that no threshold exists below which God’s love is absent. (Cf. Matt 27:46) We are never alone, bereft of God’s presence and love. If this were not so what we call God’s love would not be love, more like wages paid for due service. (Matt 20:1-16)
Country of first asylum, or first refuge, is usually a neighbouring country to which a refugee flees. In the face of great challenge, even reported challenge, writing often becomes the place of first refuge for novelists and poets as they seek to make sense of the challenging experience. Rilke expresses it this way:
Everything conspires to silence us,
Partly with shame
Partly with unspeakable hope.
The Protestant sensibility can ask this question of those who find tradition of immense importance: “How can you trust something that changes?” The contrast here is between tradition and scripture. Prescinding from the question of the role of tradition in producing the texts of scripture, and the way in which tradition determined which books would be included, and the way that not all Christian traditions agree on the composition of scripture, let’s give the point. Tradition changes in a way that say, the scriptures these days do not. The problem that must be addressed, however, is that it is tradition (amongst other things) that allows me to read and understand scripture itself. What sense would Scripture make if I had not previously been taught to read and understand the scriptures in the/a tradition of the church? The faith is always handed on through the scriptures with teaching. Now, I don’t treat the tradition I have become familiar with in the same way as I do Scripture, (this is presumably the ‘trust’ issue mentioned above) but the two are very clearly related.
In his book “Captains of the Soul: A History of Australian Army Chaplains”, Michael Gladwin tells the story of Padre Hugh Cunningham who was imprisoned by the Japanese on the Burma Thailand railway. Cunningham wore no badge of rank, as was the Army custom for Chaplains until 1942.
The Japanese were puzzled by the great respect and particular “authority” that Cunningham had over the prisoners. The uncertainty around this influence led to his restricted access to prisoners, isolation, and confinement, often in a very low, narrow cage.
As always, it is important to look at the context of this story. In Matthew’s gospel, the story follows discussions between Jesus and the Pharisees about the Jewish purity laws, and what makes a person clean or unclean. In the preceding passages, we have the Pharisees challenging Jesus about not keeping the law, (Your disciples don’t wash their hands before they eat!) but Jesus responds by challenging the Pharisees to think more carefully about what makes a person clean or unclean. He argues that it is not so much washing hands that makes a person clean and what goes into a person’s mouth, but rather what are the words that flow from one’s mouth and what are the thoughts that are in our hearts. This is what true purity is, he argues.
Why do we include art, music and poetry in our worship?
It can be argued that Christian artists, musicians and poets show us how to abide with Christ as friends, not servants, because they explore personal insights into faith through their creativity.
“I do not call you servants any longer because the servant does not know what the master is doing: but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father” (John 15:15).
Jesus said, ‘You have heard it said to those of ancient times, “You shall not kill”; and “whoever kills shall be liable to judgement.” But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.
Although I don’t particularly like the term, I can be characterised as a millennial. As a millennial, I am a part of a generation of individuals who have intrinsically grown up with and around digital technology. The normative usage of personal computers, mobile phones and video game systems are implicit cultural and generational expectations. Particularly of note, however, is the cultural phenomenon that is the Internet. It has been interesting to me to see it develop concurrently as I have developed, from being an obscure blue button that I was never allowed to click on, to a resource that I was sometimes allowed to use for homework, (at the expense of preventing everyone else from making phone calls in the house) to having perpetual, instantaneous, high-speed access even when I’m not at home.
Repeating themes of creation, struggle, death and rebirth run through the greatest literature across all cultures. It seems ironic then, that many of our cleverest minds, having “got the picture”, turn to a condensed version or even, in the case of The Fellowship of the Ring, half a short poem to summarise the plot.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.
(From “All that is gold does not glitter” by J.R.R. Tolkien)
Jesus often spoke in parables to teach the crowds that gathered around when he spoke. This parable tells us that a very small seed, if it is tended well, can grow into a healthy shrub even providing a home for birds. It is important to note the context of this parable, following immediately after the Parable of the Sower where Jesus has explained that seeds that fall on rocky ground or amongst thorns do not grow as well as the seed that falls on rich soil. And likewise, Jesus tells the people, the person who receives the Word of God and understands it, is like the seed that falls on rich soil. It puts down roots and yields a large harvest. The implication is that this tiny mustard seed has fallen on rich soil and has been tended and grown to its full potential, so robust that it can be a home for birds.
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