Sunday, 7 June 2015

The Trinity trio

It’s after the festival of Pentecost in Jerusalem. Jesus' three close friends - Peter and brothers James and John - are having a drink in the Jerusalem Arms.                            A sketch

Peter: Well, who would have guessed it. From fish to fame. Pilchards to preachers… Cheers - to the future!

James: To the future! The trouble is, in this future the others are looking to us for a lead, aren’t they?

John: They’re never going to let us live that one down, James, about us bidding for the top spots in Jesus’ kingdom.

Peter: You’ve got to carry that cross now, John!

James: So why three of us? Oh I get it, you’re here, Peter, to keep the peace between us brothers.

Peter: No! It’s good management strategy - oh, I hadn’t told you, I’ve signed on for a management course at Jerusalem College. We’ve got some serious retraining to do! Three - it gives resilience. If one us drops dead - and, let’s be honest, the chances are pretty high of someone knocking us off, now we’re marked men - then there’s still two left. Bets for who’ll be first!

John: No, there’s something deeper about being three than that. I’ve been thinking…

James: You’re always thinking, bro. Lighten up! Cor, those interminable hours trapped on a boat with you with your philosophical ramblings. I felt like stuffing a dead fish in your mouth many a time.

John: And you’re always breaking my train of thought! Where was I?… Oh yes, three. Three of us, three of them.

Peter: You’ve lost me there, mate. Three of who?

John: Three of God.

James: Three of God? Keep your voice down! That’s blasphemy. We’ll be strung up before you can say ‘shalom’.

John: Well, for starters, Jesus clearly saw his Father as different to him. Whilst also the same. ‘I and the Father are one’, as he said. And then he talks about the Spirit, as if it makes up the party.

James: And wasn’t it a party he gave us at Pentecost! Don’t know if the ‘high’ was legal, but it was good!

John: There you go, trivialising things again!

Peter: I was always a bit envious of the Greeks and the Romans with all their different gods. They have such good stories about how the gods get on with one another - or don’t. It looks like they’re part-right, then. Thankfully our God seems to get on with himself rather better.

James: The Roman gods don’t seem to get on well with people, either. Zeus was my favourite at school. I loved the stories when the gods killed people. But what a travesty, given the truth…

John: …that it’s the other way round - people killed God…

Peter: [pause] And yet he doesn’t blame us. That beach bar-B-Q Jesus did. I was just relaxing after an all-nighter. Then the fish weren’t the only things being grilled, as Jesus turned the roaster on me. But I’ve never known love like it before.

James: It really did change you, didn't it, mate? The slushy love stuff is normally John’s territory.

John: Jesus was always talking about how much the Father loved him. Yet he allowed him to die. Not normally good for family dynamics. Yet it turns out they were suffering together - carrying the world’s grief.

Peter: One moment you’re talking about Jesus and his Father as separate, the next like they’re one God. This is where I struggle. I just can’t get how two can be one - let alone three!

James: Numbers never were your thing, eh Peter?! Those days at Capernaum Primary. It was always so good to know there'd be someone lower than you in the class, eh, ’Simple Simon’!

John: But that’s fine. Not understanding God as three, I mean. Jesus wasn't challenging us to understand. He was inviting us to participate.

Peter: Participation - absolutely. ‘Follow me’, he said. Action, my kind of man. If he’d meant to a theological college, I’d have stayed right on my boat. He was calling us to a life, a life like his. Mind you, if I’d known that life could mean an early grim death, I’d have stayed right on my boat too.

James: We’ve burned our boats now, though. Well, not literally - I’m getting some useful rental income on ours at the moment.

Peter: John, getting back to what you’re saying about Jesus inviting us to participate. I get the action bit. But I know you - I’m sure you’ve got something deeper.

John: As it happens, yes. Miss this one and we miss the whole point. God, as three, relate to one another. They always have, they always will. But in coming to earth, Jesus was like their ambassador, inviting us to join them - join the family as it were. 

James: You mean joining them in heaven.

John: Only heaven’s come to earth. Living with us, Jesus showed we can be part of the family now. We’re children of God, that’s the key. And children aren’t left outside in the cold - they’re in the house, the heart of the family.

Peter: So when Jesus said to us, ‘follow me’, he was sort of saying, ‘follow me into the company of the three-bits-of-God.’

John: Yes. We’ve scarcely scratched the surface of this one.

James: You’re ahead of me, bro. Meanwhile, back on planet earth - which is where Jesus came to, remember - we’ve got to have a plan to bring to the other guys (and girls - Jesus didn’t leave them out, I’m not going to - I’m a changed man too!). Peter, as the main man, over to you.

Peter: Well, what Jesus did was invite people, wasn’t it? To follow him. And I’m starting to get it: into the heart of God. So that’s now our job. Inviting people, into what we’ve already started to experience.

James: We need a slick term for this three-in-one-God thing. Bro, you’re our classics expert. What can you come up with?

John: mmm, ‘tri’ - three, ‘unity’ - as one. So, how about calling the three-in-one-God thing, as you call it, ‘trinity’?

Peter: Brilliant. I always knew it was worth staying friends with you at school. 

John: There’s three in God, three of us. Back to where we started.

James: Tell you what, for some fun getting this across to the others, we could do a sketch! Now, which of us should be the Father, the Son, and the Spirit?…

Peter: I’m staying out of your brotherly squabbles! We’ve got work to do - let’s get some more beers...

Alphaeus adds:
I apologise to theologians for the abuse in this conversation of the development of Christian understanding of God as Trinity. Many decades (even centuries) are contracted here into a short conversation.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Planning Pentecost

God the Father and God the Son discuss sending the Holy Spirit at Pentecost
A sketch for Pentecost

Father: Welcome back to heaven, son! You’ve kept in touch well, but I’ve still missed you.

Jesus: Good to see you too. Mind you, my head’s still spinning from the Ascension. That was quite some ride you gave me.

Father: Indeed, your once-in-a-lifetime experience of heavenly teleporting… Anyway, I’ve got two things on the agenda: reviewing how things went for you on earth; and the next stage, sending the Holy Spirit.

Jesus: Ah, so many stories to share about earth with you. We’ve eternity for that! Sending the Holy Spirit, though: I suggest we crack straight on. I told my friends to wait, and humans don’t find waiting easy. To be honest, those years plugging away as a carpenter: great to have had a normal job - but the patience was a challenge. A thousand years aren’t like a day to them, you know! 

Father: That’s something the Spirit can help them with, then - patience - add it to his list. By the way, I suggest we keep referring to our Spirit as ‘he’. It’ll keep things simple - and it makes writing up the minutes easier.

Jesus: There’ll be other PR problems too. Such as the name. ‘Holy’ sounds remote, when we’ll be with them - and even in them! And ‘Spirit’ - it’s a tougher concept for them than ‘Father’ or ‘Son’. Rather ethereal, hard to grasp.

Father: It’s hard to pin him down for these family chats, too! A threesome we may be, but hardly the tidy nuclear family with the Spirit! He’s always on the go. We’ve only got to have thought of something and he’s off doing it.

Jesus: I’ve seen him from the other side of the fence now, too. When you’re in creation, you know it’s him holding the whole thing together, giving you all your food, your air - breathing all life, in fact.

Father: He’s due for another long-service thank-you medal, don’t you think? How long is it now since we created everything?? - I lose track… Anyway, we now need to focus on this new stage. So what was it like for you, being filled with the Spirit?

Jesus: How did I put it? ‘The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.’ I was putting words to my experience…

Father: Mmmm, the ‘wind’ image - I like that. Let’s come back to it. But carry on.

Jesus: Each day, wrestling in prayer, knowing I was your Son, yet also being intensely human. And it is a very intense experience - as we meant it to be. There’s so much to see and feel, to enjoy and to suffer, so much that exalts the spirit, but so much too that is very hard to make sense of.

Father: Humbling for you - thank you. Tell you what, I could give you a medal for humility! No, perhaps that doesn't work…

Jesus: Anyway, through all that, each day the Spirit filled my capacity to love people - and, believe me, some of them aren’t that lovely! We could at least have chosen a period of history when personal cleanliness was more advanced…

Father: And what about healing people, how was that for you? 

Jesus: Quite extraordinary! I train as a carpenter, I work as a healer and teacher - how does that work?! The Spirit, he gifts you far beyond what you think you could do - and it’s as if it is you and it isn’t you at the same time.

Father: We will always be something of a mystery!

Jesus: Yes! But the wonderful part - and I say this with both my ‘God’ and ‘human’ hats on - is that all of this brought transformation to people. That’s the heart of the next stage too, of course - the Holy Spirit transforming people, through people. ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water’. I was rather pleased with putting it that way.

Father: Blatant plagiarism of Isaiah, son!

Jesus: Of course, but I had to learn my Isaiah from scratch, don’t forget!

Father: And a job well done. Water’s a good image, in fact. I like it.

Jesus: And another one - sticking with Isaiah, describing his experience of us as being like fire. I felt that in me too - powerful, unquenchable. And what I was doing was like bringing fire.

Father: I sense another PR challenge.

Jesus: Too true! People see fire as destructive. The only thing we destroy is the bad, leaving the good purer and more beautiful. I saw the benefit in people when they were cleansed like this, it was deeply redemptive. So fire’s still a good image to work with.

Father: Excellent… I see a plan coming together.

Jesus: Well you’re the master!

Father: We’ve got these three images: water, wind, and fire. 

Jesus: Earth… wind… and fire… Very neat. Very elemental.

Father: But not all practical. Your friends, they’re gathered in a room, is that right?

Jesus: Yes - they’re expectant, but nervous.

Father: So, we do a launch event of the next stage, with them in the room. Wind - that’s the easy one. Fire, we’ll have to control for obvious health and safety reasons - we must give the Spirit strict boundaries! But water - no. We don’t want a flood. Bad associations - Noah and all that. Let’s keep it simple: wind and fire. Water will have its own moment, with baptism.

Jesus: Genius!

Father: Just good teamwork. And for timing - soon, you suggest? Pentecost is coming up. A festival, so lots of people will be there. And a great marketing hook for the birthday of the church too.

Jesus: I was very sad to leave my friends. But so exciting now we’re moving to the next stage.

Father: Which just leaves giving the instructions to the Holy Spirit. I’ll crack on and write up those minutes… Only kidding - I know he already knows! The only one for whom ‘being there in spirit’ actually means being there...

Jesus: The world awaits! Pentecost here we come.

Alphaeus adds:
OK, so I'm not party to conversations in heaven. I've brought my imagination to the inner workings of God. Maybe we have to create him in our image a little to have any chance of penetrating his mysteries... 
The story of the subsequent pivotal events of Pentecost can be found in Acts 2.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Forget gravity, says Sir Isaac

A Sunday newspaper journalist interviews Sir Isaac Newton for a special article in the Easter Sunday edition
A sketch for Easter

Journalist: Good morning, Sir Isaac - may I call you Sir Isaac? It is a privilege to speak with you.

Newton: These chats are a pleasant distraction from my work. All that maths does make my head hurt sometimes.

Journalist: Not only are you are the most famous scientist of today, you are now very popular with the apple industry. All that free promotion for them.

Newton: They have rather played on that story of the apple falling on my head for their commercial ends! Still, it’s helped me get my message across too: that gravity is a law of nature.

Journalist: ‘What goes up must come down’, you might say.

Newton: Well, yes - that’s very neatly put, I must say. Let me just jot that one down…

Journalist: But not everything does, does it? Come down, I mean.

Newton: Such as?

Journalist: Well, bread. Bread rises - and it stays up. Well, my wife’s does (she does a lovely loaf, you know). Magic. None of your gravity working there.

Newton: Aaah, bread is like a building material - bake it and it becomes like bricks and mortar. It can then support itself against gravity. Mind you, don’t let my wife know I’ve compared her bread with bricks and mortar. You won’t publish that, will you?

Journalist: Trust me - I’m a journalist… Moving on, what about the sun? 

Newton: What about it?

Journalist: Well, it rises too. And then sets. Then rises again. It’s like the chicken and the egg - which came first, the rising or the setting?

Newton: Aaah, now we’re talking planetary motion. Galileo cracked that one. He died the year I was born, you know - a bit of trivia for your readers! It’s taking a while for his ideas to get popular, though.

Journalist: We did a slot on him just the other week, in fact. The earth going round the sun, and all that.

Isaac: Exactly! Well done. I’ve just written a book about all this, which you can get at a very good price from selected bookstalls. It’s called PhilosophiƦ Naturalis Principia Mathematica.

Journalist: Mmmm, catchy title! - and handily written in Latin too, I believe… In it you say the behaviour of the universe is entirely predictable. That what goes up must come down. That if things appear to rise, it is entirely explainable by physical laws.

Newton: That’s right.

Journalist: So that applies if a person appears to have ‘risen’, then?  Jesus, for example. It is Easter, after all.

Newton: Aaah, that’s different.

Journalist: Different?! If I may say so, Sir Isaac, you seem to be undermining your own best-selling book!

Newton: No, this is a different thesis entirely - actually, it’s the really exciting one. Gravity pales into insignificance. And it’s not my theory at all - it’s God’s. (Most of us Cambridge dons are clerics as well, of course - we ‘do’ God too.) But personally I call it ‘Levity’.

Journalist: Levity? That sounds a good name for an Easter bunny.

Newton: Oh dear… Levity, as in levis - Latin, you know for ‘light’. As gravity is from gravis - ‘heavy’. It comes back to a good old classical education… We so often feel burdened by life - by fear, by guilt - like gravity inside us, you could say. Levity is the opposite - when all that’s taken away!

Journalist: Mmm, but what does this have to do with Easter?

Newton: It’s the resurrection, don’t you see? It blew gravity away. Our internal gravity, that is, the things that drag us down, defeat us, even kill us. If it blew physical gravity away we’d all be in trouble! - we’d float away to goodness knows where - maybe some godforsaken planet where no-one knows any Latin... The resurrection, you see, blew open the door to another world, where God raises things up. Because that’s what he does.

Journalist: So when’s your Levity book going to be published?

Newton: I’ll leave that to the real church people. I don’t want to hog all the big ideas!

Journalist: …Well, Sir Isaac, that wasn't the direction I saw this interview going. But you’ve given our readers much to debate over their Easter bunny - sorry, rabbit - stew. Thank you.

Newton: The pleasure’s all mine. Gratias tibi ago (that’s ‘thank you’, by the way!)

Alphaeus adds:
Whilst Newton believed in the resurrection, his 'theory of levity' is, of course, a fictional supposition. A more conventional account of the resurrection can be found at Mark 16 vv1-8.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

The Interview

An imagined job interview with God 
A sketch about being drawn to new horizons

God: Come in, sit down, make yourself comfortable… Thank you for coming for the interview today.

Person: This is an interview?? 

God: Yes, but probably not like interviews you’ve done before. You’ve already got the job… So, have you any questions?

Person: I’ve already got the job? I don’t even know what the job is!

God: Ah, but that doesn’t matter.

Person: Doesn’t matter??… How do you know I can do it, then?

God: I wouldn’t have given it to you if you couldn’t do it. And I’ve a good record - I’ve never yet given someone a job they couldn’t do. I’ve been in the business a wee while - you could say I created the whole concept of recruitment. Or ‘partnership’, as we prefer to call it, not ‘recruitment’. You will be working with us, not for us. Trinity Training and Transformation, we call ourselves.

Person: Trinity Training and Transformation?? T-T-T, eh?! A three-letter acronym - all very slick and contemporary - no doubt you’ve got a zappy logo as well!… You mention training - so what training do I get, to do this job that I’m meant to be able to do - but still don’t know what it is?

God: Training? You of little faith! Your whole life has been your training for the job I have for you. I’ve been watching over your life, and guiding it - and if you want to think in terms of business lingo, yes, you do tick all the necessary competences. 

Person: But I’ve been making my own choices in life. What if I’d gone a different route in life to what I have done, and not tick all the boxes - what then?

God: Ah, you wouldn’t be redundant - I would have another job for you. I'm creative like that. And everyone can always be a partner.

Person: Look, you’re starting to be a bit presumptive, if I may say so. A bit controlling, even. It’s up to me whether I join your partnership.

God: You walked in the room, didn’t you?…

Person: ...Mmmm… What’s with this ‘Transformation’ thing? It sounds like it involves change - I don’t like that. The world is fine just the way it is, thank you very much.

God: Really??

Person: Well… no, of course not - there are plenty of very annoying people I can think of who could do with changing! And you should watch the News - there’s terrorism everywhere, the NHS is going down the pan - the world’s a mess, it really is.

God: Great - you’ve got the picture - you’re a natural partner! - people need help. And sorry to have to break this to you, but that includes you, of course! But that’s part of the genius of our programme - every partner is transformed themselves at the same time as helping transform other people. Win-win!… Sorry, just allowing myself to be drawn into one of those sales cliches. It’s not about winning. But it is all good.

Person: It’s all good? Including the terms and conditions? What’s the pay?

God: Why does it always come down to pay?! As I say, we would be partners. The risk is mine as much as yours. And we entirely share the benefits. But seeing as you ask, the benefits couldn’t be better.

Person: Such as??

God: What you already have - you’re a partner already - complete security, and everything you need. For life, of course. (And for ‘life’ think ‘eternal’ here, of course.) No company car, though.

Person: Ah, shucks, and there was me starting to dream… But hang on, you mentioned the word ‘risk’ a moment ago, didn’t you? What’s the risk?

God: The risk? The risk is that you don’t know where the job will lead you - rather like how this conversation has gone. You don’t know what the outcomes will be when you start. You don’t know who I will ask you to work with!…

Person: So if I don’t know where the job will take me, how can you possibly expect me to take it up?

God: You haven’t asked about references.

Person: References?? I didn’t even know I was coming to an interview, so I haven’t got any references - I don’t happen to carry them round with me!

God: No, not references for you, references for me. That’s how you decide about the job, whether you take it up or not.

Person: So, ummm, who are your referees, should I know??

God: Ask around, there’s no shortage - people who’ve done jobs with us before, people doing jobs with us now. Some of these references people have written down, but word of mouth works well too. And you are a referee too, of course! You’ve already done jobs with us before - and I’m not aware you’ve felt let down! It’s just that this interview format may be new to you - but that’s all part of the training and transforming experience.

Person: So, err… when would I start??

God: Well, no time like the present, I would say! Let’s go and meet the people you’re working with - though just to mention first, don’t expect others to have had an interview quite like this - we don’t use a bland uniform selection process here - it’s all tailored to be perfect for you! And congratulations for taking up the job - your job! So…if you’re ready?… we’re through this door here…

Alphaeus adds:
The tailored selection process of Samuel in the Old Testament and of Jesus' apostle Nathanael in the New Testament featured in last Sunday's set Bible readings in the Church of England (1 Samuel 3 vv1-10 and John 1 vv43-51).