Full Circle to Christianity’s ‘faith, hope and love’.

In a world where the usual reassurances are no longer working, where, across the world, confidence in government, education, business and justice systems – even in ourselves – is at an all-time low, more and more people are looking around with searching eyes, hunting for some roots, some solid ground beneath their feet, something – anything – that they can rely on as an ultimate safety net, a better pathway along which to walk into the future and a better way of living for the present.IMG_2204

Is this ‘something’ God? Not the universe, energy, or Nature, but the God of Christianity, the creator of it all? I am increasingly of the conviction that it is.

There is an unwavering hope, wholeness and security in the Christian Faith. With its clear clean message of the ultimate in love, freedom and justice, it is proving yet again to be better than any kitchen or partner update, more reliable than Wikipedia, and more secure than a gated property or any amount of money in the bank.

Built around relevant real-time local worshipping communities, Christianity has consistently invited people to a liberating spiritual surrender of their lives to their Creator – along with a radical review of their current values and attitudes – reaching out to him in humility, faith and commitment.

The result is a profound sideways ‘paradigm’ shift, into a new world and a new way of thinking, where the goals and aspirations of 21st Century living are replaced by much more profound goals and aspirations that cannot be bettered and will last, literally, for ever.

  • Welcome to the experience of a loving and eternal here-and-now God who we can truly connect with and be honestly accountable to.
  • Welcome to the promise of heaven and eternal life awaiting us beyond our physical death.
  • Welcome to a set of uncompromised day-to-day guiding life principles that have been around since the beginning of time and we can surrender to.
  • Welcome to an understanding of the world we live in that takes us beyond the natural worries and concerns of economic growth, survival of the fittest, cancer and redundancy.

Yes, welcome to the faith-filled, hope-filled, and love-filled life of 21st Century Christianity. Signing up has changed the lives of thousands of millions across the world for over two millennia. Some track record, eh?  Agreed, there is a price to pay – the price is simply everything you have, do and are.  Everything.

I’m in.

The Kind Stranger: On the Beach

I was sitting alone on holiday in the sun when the Kind Stranger came to me next. I’d been weary and tired – they’re different, aren’t they – and needed to hear a reassuring voice.

The beach at Speightstown, Barbados.

But it was his shadow I noticed first. It cast itself across the table I was sitting at and I knew straight away it was him. Typically he was not visibly filling the vacant chair at my side, but we both knew he was there. If he had been visible to the naked eye as well as the naked spirit, he would have been leaning back, smiling, relaxed, maybe with his legs crossed, drinking a smoothie.

“Hi Andrew.” It’s great he knows my name as well as yours. “Thinking again I see.”

“Yes, I do a lot of that.”

He didn’t reply. It amuses me how he is perfectly happy to leave my comments and expressed thoughts untouched. He has no compulsion to express his own (priceless) opinions, or pronounce subtle judgements in the way we humans are so clever at doing. So I asked him a question.

“Do you think a lot?”

He chuckled, as if the question itself was a little absurd.

“I used to,” he said. “However, now I tend to live more in the moment, being less concerned about having a thought-out answer for life’s pressing questions. Sometimes they’re better left alone with their mystery intact. I tend to consider whether or not the question has a satisfying answer – whether it needs to be asked at all. Often people ask questions to provide them with greater security or greater power. I’m not short of either of those!”

He paused, then continued, “And sometimes people think thinking is a safer alternative to acting, living out their lives.”

“Thinking to avoid the risk of failing, maybe?” I ventured.

He smiled again. “Could be.”

We’re never rushed when we’re together, the Kind Stranger and me. I don’t think he does ‘rushed’. We just sat for a few minutes, and then …

“I think to puzzle things out,” I said, “to somehow grasp the complexities of life and understand them, to simplify them, to increase my knowledge. In Powerchange we say that people are hunting for MCC, meaning, clarity, and closure.”

“And does it work?” he asked.

“I think so – it helps people make sense of a jumbled world.”

“That sounds to me like a quest for peace of mind!” he laughed.

“Absolutely!” I returned. We both laughed and the conversation went quiet for a few more minutes. We just sat.

“Andrew, I love you, you know.”

“Yes, I do know. I feel very very safe with THAT knowledge. It definitely brings MCC for me.”

“I love you when you’re thinking and when you’re not. I love you when you have answers and when you don’t. I love you when you feel safe and when you feel scared, and as I’ve said before, you’ll never be outside that love.”

I cannot describe how good it felt to hear him say that – though I’d known it to be true for many years. Friendship this deep, this real, this accepting, cannot be confined to the meagre expressions of the English language. It is drawn in through every sense we have – and more.

As I sat looking out from my shady table over the turquoise sea, listening to the breaking waves lap the shore, in my mind I saw the Kind Stranger get up from the table.

“Come on!” he invited. “Enough thinking!”

“Where are we going?” I asked, then watched in horror as he walked out on the surface of the water.

Another question, eh!” He teased. “You’ll never know if you stay where you are now. Come on, follow me.”

I rose from the table, left some change for the bill, and took a deep breath. Some things you just have to do, so I stepped onto the water too. It took a few steps of practice faith – about twenty or so – and I sank several times, but I soon got the knack.

You do, don’t you?

GOD: Part 1. The Pretend Experiment

Whether you believe in ‘God’ or not, spending time thinking about him (I’m using the masculine because it works for me, not because I believe ‘God’ to be necessarily male) is good for you.  Official.   Funny that.

According to the latest academic studies of literally hundreds of neuroscientists worldwide and summarised in Dr Andrew Newberg’s latest book “How God Changes your Brain” you don’t need to believe in a Supreme Being, God, Jehovah, Allah, or some other divinity, for thinking about him to be beneficial.

Dr Newberg from the University of Pennsylvania and his colleagues make a very strong case. Enjoy the read!  The truth seems to be that, neurologically, ‘God’ may be one of the most powerful words a person ever encounters, and that once the concept is in your head it won’t go away.

Personally, I’m delighted to be a ‘believer’. It works for me. I don’t put that into the same category as believing in Father Christmas – though in our house believing in FC is definitely beneficial on Christmas morning – or believing in Mother Nature, whoever she might be. It’s just that if I dig deep into my mind, heart, thinking, and soul, I can’t hand-on-heart, bring myself to say with any conviction that a single Supreme Being doesn’t exist. Reason? I think he does, and if he does, I want to be on his side and have him on mine. I hope you follow the logic.  However there are one or two conditions attached for such contemplations to be beneficial and not damaging.

The aforesaid God needs to be perceived as benevolent. No problem there, mine is.  Stick your head in Dr Newberg’s fMRI scanner and you’ll notice that contemplation of a God who is authoritarian, dictatorial, malevolent, vindictive, violent, critical, fearful, distant, angry or focuses on our wrongdoing (sin?) – any seriously negative thoughts in fact – will start to physically damage your actual brain within 20 seconds or so. I think the God I believe in would be very sad for me to do that to myself, wouldn’t he? So I like to avoid doing it; 19 seconds and no more. Only a benevolent God is good for you, not a fearsome one. That makes sense to me.

Another condition seem to be to believe that God is close. Many people perceive God as ‘out there’, separate and remote, an impersonal Force stirring up the stars.  But for us to properly benefit from contemplating this benevolent God we also need to perceive him as ‘in here’ – close, personal, even intimate. Today many people are perceiving God as a ‘living spirit in every human being’. Others may express their perceptions as a loving caring knowing Presence in and around them, wherever they are, whatever is happening to them.  From my teenage years, God has seemed close. Most of the time anyway!

So what happens if you honestly don’t believe God is real? Amazingly, you do not need to believe in the reality of a benevolent close God for God to be good for your brain. The evidence seems to indicate that just pretending (yes, pretending!) that this God – benevolent and ‘in here’ as well as ‘out there’ – is real, and living in that pretence on a daily basis for six or eight weeks, will change your brain structure in your favour. It seems you’ll be happier, more relaxed, think more clearly and your brain will become more integrated and function better … just pretending God is close and on your side each day! Who knows, you may want to continue the experiment if it turns out really good, or maybe refine it.

OK, so I don’t need to pretend because I am a believer. You might not be right now, and may need to pretend to get the benefits.

I know it’s very subjective and not very scientific, but do me a favour and let me know what happens. Newberg reckons you need to meditate, for twenty minutes a day for six to eight weeks, on this God who you imagine to be both benevolent and close.

Hmmm. Sounds like the Kind Stranger to me.