Book Review, Theology

Steven Pressfield, ‘The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles’ (Review)


Many of the books I’ve found most helpful on the topic of writing and creativity have a no-nonsense, let’s-get-down-to-brass-tacks style. They aim to demystify the creative process and focus on the practicalities of actually producing work. Of these, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles is one of the most direct treatments I have found. Its author, Steven Pressfield, best known for his novel The Legend of Bagger Vance, intends to diagnose and counteract the powerful internal force which impedes creative work–an enemy he labels Resistance. He writes in an entertainingly punchy style, formatting the book into (largely) page-length thoughts. The result is encouraging, practical, empowering, and–surprisingly–leaves me questioning the theological implications of his argument, which I will expand on below.

The book’s central thesis is that the difficult part of writing is not the writing itself, but the sitting down to write. If we can beat the forces which prevent us from actually getting to our work, we can be set free to produce the art which is our gift to the world. The name of the enemy is Resistance, that pernicious inner tug which takes on any form necessary to keep us from achieving the things we know we should. Split into three sections, the book first defines this enemy, then looks at ways in which to combat it, and finally points towards the elements which sustain creativity once Resistance has been overcome.

Anyone who has attempted to follow a higher calling knows Resistance intimately. It manifests itself any time we try to transcend our path-of-least-resistance, lower-nature mentality to do something of moral and spiritual value. It stops at nothing to prevent this. The difficulty is that it is an extremely subtle, invisible, internal, and often very rational force. Rather than showing its face clearly, it is most often expressed in procrastination, coping mechanisms, addictions, victim mentalities, criticism of others, and rationalisations. Essentially, Pressfield argues, it is fuelled by fear. But in betraying itself by fear, we can know that the more fearful we are, the more significant the task before us.

However, we know that Resistance can certainly be defeated, otherwise there would be no Macbeth, or Don Quijote, or Michelangelo’s Pieta. The way to overcome, as Pressfield puts it, is to “turn pro.” Primarily, the professional possesses a mentality which the amateur lacks. While the common view is that the amateur works for the love and the professional works for money, the author asserts that in reality the amateur does not love the game enough, otherwise he would dedicate his life to it like the professional. A professional stakes it all on his calling, plays for keeps, turns up to work and commits full-time. The basic attributes of what this looks like are to work daily, no matter what, over the long-haul, taking risks, accepting remuneration, mastering one’s craft, having a sense of humour and receiving blame or praise without over-identification with one’s work. Pressfield’s argument is that there is no luck or magic involved, but simply a wilful decision to turn pro and approach one’s work with this relentless perseverance.

The final question pertains to the source of creativity once Resistance has been put in its place. Pressfield opens the book with a prayer from the Odyssey, invoking the Muses, the mythical daughters of the gods, to inspire the poet in his work. The author takes the Muse as representative of that common feeling among artists that the work is not their own, but rather handed to them to ‘enflesh’. Amateurs only work when inspiration happens to hit. Professionals create a regular space where this can happen. Rather than waiting inactively for the Muse to descend, which turns out to continually be ‘mañana’, simply turning up to work daily creates a space into which the Muse can speak. This voice, the author explains, is what the ancients called our “inner genius,” the unique gift of our individual soul. Thus, he exhorts us, “Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.”

The practical aspects of this book have been revealing and uplifting, causing me to take my calling more seriously, recognising Resistance when it attacks and resolving to “turn up” to work so that inspiration has a ready vessel to fill. Beyond this, however, the work raises some interesting theological questions in its discussion of the creative Muse. Pressfield, on his part, seems to take this spiritual aspect with absolute seriousness. He states that his daily ritual begins with a prayer to invoke the Muses. But, at least for him, this is not only a method, but a real act of worship. He bows his pride to the Muse and offers his gift back to it. Although he encourages the reader to follow him even if he doesn’t believe in such things as angels or Muses, there is a clear indication that every artist implicitly recognises that there are real, powerful, immaterial forces at work in the act of creation. Although Pressfield takes pains to thoroughly demystify the process of writing, and I think he is successful, in the end he reinforces a spiritual notion of the source of creative inspiration. Ultimately, for the author, the artist’s journey is that of discovering ‘self’, because the Muse is his authentic self, talking to him from a higher plane of existence where “God is all there is.”

What is interesting to me, therefore, is that the book points to sources outside of ourselves as the source of creativity, but on the other hand ends up identifying those external forces with ourselves. What Pressfield espouses, therefore, is a form of Monism or Pantheism. With this in view, the book can almost be seen as a theological treatise, with Resistance playing the role of sin, and invocation of the Muse the salvific act which, through artistic expression, connects us to our estranged inner god. In this framework, both the thing that we are striving for and the thing which holds us back are within us. Thus, Resistance is an illusion caused by fear of our inner divine potential.

But why is it more plausible to think that the Muse is simply our authentic, divine self, than that it is the eternal, immaterial, creator God at work? When taken as a whole, the author seems driven to this conclusion by being unable to deny the spiritual forces at work in his craft, but being unwilling for some reason to admit that this could be God, separate and distinct from his creation. Perhaps there is Resistance to this idea because of its possible moral implications on the artist’s life. Of course, it would also, unfortunately, imply that we ourselves are not God.

Culture, Review

Lewis Hyde, ‘The Gift: How the Creative Spirit Transforms the World’ (Review)


Some books sit just above you, speaking to you but calling you up to their level. Lewis Hyde’s The Gift: How the Creative Spirit Transforms the World (Canongate: 2012) is one of these. I feel it’s significance but I don’t quite have the perspective from which to appreciate all it’s implications. So in some ways, I’m certainly not qualified to write a review. But then again, even from my position, I can see that it holds enough treasures for me to be impelled to share, write and reflect in response.

The Gift has been in print continuously for the thirty-three years since it was written, a fact which shows it’s continued relevance to readers interested in creativity, whether as practitioners or consumers. But as the foreword by Margaret Atwood highlights, the book “has always been hard to summarise in pithy prose.” As far as it can be reduced to a sentence, I would say it is a study of the nature of gifts and how the gift of art interacts with the market-driven world.

Hyde, former Director of Creative Writing at Harvard, begins by outlining the characteristics of gift culture through the lens of anthropology and folk literature. His intention is to make clear what human cultures seem to know innately about gifts through the stories we tell and the rituals we perpetuate. He then counterpoises this realm of gifts with that of the marketplace. Part one thus leads to an examination of the tensions created in the modern world by the confusion of these two spheres. Then, part two explores Hyde’s analysis taking poets Walt Whitman and Ezra Pound as case studies. In the end, as the conclusion admits, the book serves to raise the question of how artists, who essentially operate within the culture of gifts, should interact with the market-oriented culture that now predominates in modern life.

Part of what the book expertly reveals is that the relationship between art and commerce is only getting more complicated. Previously, folk cultures all over the world consistently operated on a double standard, a gift culture within the community and a market culture outside the community. For example, in the Torah, God prohibits the charging of interest between Hebrews because it is inimical to gift-giving. For outsiders, however, a market culture was allowed, maintaining a healthy boundary and allowing the internal community to flourish. Since the Reformation, however, the ancient prohibition on usury has been reinterpreted to allow for the charging of interest to all, whether inside or outside. Indeed, this is essentially the system on which the entire world monetary system is now based. Thus, Hyde argues, there has been a growing loss of the distinction between objects which can be commercialised and those that can’t.

As the first part of the study shows, artists almost invariably recognise their creativity and inspiration, as well as the fruit these produce, to be gifts. Gifts are received freely and must be given freely, as turning them to capital of any sort violates their nature and nullifies their benefits. There is always a reciprocal flow which is marked by generosity and gratitude. Gifts transform us and point us to something bigger than ourselves, creating a community through the bonds of love which they invariably forge. Artists are thus in a difficult position because their labour produces something which loses its value if commercialised–hence the artist’s age-old dilemma between staying true to the gift and making a decent living. Whitman responded to this dichotomy by giving of his self to the point of near ruin. Pound responded by embracing Fascism, which he saw as fostering a theory of money that made a place for the artist.

As the case studies show, the value of the book doesn’t lie in the answers it provides, but rather in helping to clarify the questions. Hyde admits that he is unable to offer a solution to the artist’s problem, except in hinting that society should provide a return of gratitude to artists for their gifts. This would allow the gift to remain a gift and the artist to continue in her work. But the practicalities of this are not explored in any detail. In all honesty, I found the sections on Whitman and Pound to be quite taxing. Perhaps this is due to being unfamiliar with their work. But where the book really succeeds is in showing the distinct nature and benefits of gifts, how art is itself a gift, and how artists and art are compromised by market commodification. These insights, I feel, have profoundly affected my thinking and I have an inkling they will continue to do so for years to come.

In all, the book has given me a deeper appreciation of the value of gifts, how they affect and change us, and how we ought to respond to them naturally in gratitude. As a result, Hyde has helped me to better understand the way I feel about my own art. I have always felt that it was a gift given to me, and that in gratitude to this gift, I must in turn share it with others. I now understand and can articulate why it is that I feel the dis-ease and turbulence of disobedience when I allow my gift to remain unused. I now understand why it is that I feel a tension whenever it is that I come to talking about money in relation to this gift. But perhaps with this new understanding I will be better equipped to negotiate the tension, accept it for what it is, and navigate with a clearer vision. I may not know the answer, but I feel now I at least know why there is a question.

Apologetics, Culture, Reflection, Theology

The Problem With ‘Using’ the Arts


The problem with treating the arts as a means to another end is that when that end is achieved the arts suddenly lose their value. Lewis Hyde showed this in The Gift by highlighting the decline of arts funding in America after the Cold War. During the propaganda war, the arts had been supported as a bastion of Western freedoms. This is the period when the National Endowment for the Arts was founded, when the CIA worked behind the scenes to exhibit American artists abroad. But when the West ‘won’, an era of unselfconscious market triumphalism was ushered in and the arts quickly began to seem superfluous. They had served their purpose.

Evangelical Christians, in the majority of cases that I have experienced, tend to justify the arts only as a means to an end. Most commonly this means the only respectable argument for investment in the arts is that it will lead to increased church attendance or greater relevance to contemporary society or engagement with the youth. I have been party to this too and I understand the tension.
These are certainly worthy and worthwhile goals. Of course we want more people to know God and reach every generation and culture effectively. But as Christians, treating the arts merely as a means to evangelism, or relevance, or engagement, assumes that art has no inherent and enduring value to be cultivated beyond these goals. The Bible, however, shows quite clearly that this is an impoverished logic, for artistic creativity will long outlast these temporal ends.

In the new Heavens and Earth, there will be no need for evangelists, neither will there be disparity between the people of God and their surroundings, nor will there be rifts between generations. All will see him, all will know him and all will worship him in solidarity. But one aspect of human existence that will continue to grow perpetually, eternally, for the people of God, is our reflection of his nature. We are being formed into the images of Christ, the image of God. We will reflect his glory by reflecting his nature, character and activity. We are to be made like him–not exhaustively, but truly.

Genesis 1:1 reveals God as the Creator, the great Artist wielding his brush out of the overflow of Trinitarian love. We thus meet him in scripture as Creator before he is Saviour, Father and Judge. Can we afford to neglect this aspect of our God, or of ourselves, his image-bearers?

There will come a time when evangelism will have served its purpose, but the gift of creativity will endure. When the cause of winning people of Christ has been fulfilled, we will continue to create in collaboration with our Creator God. While no one will then need to be convinced, the glory of the gospel will continue to be proclaimed in ever more wonderful and imaginative ways.

Evangelism, in one way then, is a means to creating more artists.

I’m not arguing merely to exalt the arts out of self-indulgence or special pleading, but to honour the Gift Giver by enjoying his precious gift. A gift used merely as a transaction, to gain a measured reciprocal response, leaves the realm of the gift and enters the market of commodities. But to use the gift as a gift, to consume it for the joy of it’s being a gift, transforms us with gratitude and compels us to pass the gift along because we know it is not our possession. And what could bring the giver more satisfaction and glory than to see his gift wholeheartedly enjoyed, like the contentment of a loving husband revelling in his bride’s disinterested pleasure?

Book Review

Anne Lamott, ‘Travelling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith’ (Review)

I was introduced to Anne Lamott through her excellent book on writing, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. Her beautifully transparent style and self-deprecating humour were truly endearing, filling the book with moments of profundity and laughter in equal measure. In reading, I was struck by several turns of phrase and references which made me question if Lamott might be a Christian. But then again, her lighthearted use of profanity and references to God as “She” made it clear that if so, she was no traditionalist. Thus when I spied her name on the spine of Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith while visiting Departure Café (now Husk) in East London, I figured it was well worth the 50p to ease my curiosity.

As the subtitle suggests, the work is a loosely organized group of reflections on life and faith. It begins with an overture describing Lamott’s journey towards conversion, from childhood exposure to Christian Science and teenage forays into atheism, through to becoming a secular Jew at university and eventually stumbling into church as an adult with a drinking problem. It was the music that drew her. Having become a regular back-seat attendee at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church (Marin, California), always leaving before the sermon, Lamott relates that a heart-wrenching abortion is what eventually led her to experience Jesus. While drowning the sadness with drink and pain killers, she became aware of a presence, a person in the room, so real that she turned the light on to look. She knew it was Jesus, but instantly exclaimed, “I would rather die” than become what most disgusted her liberal sensibilities: a Christian. But the presence pestered her, like “a little cat was following me, wanting me to reach down and pick it up, wanting me to open the door and let it in.” Finally, after a church service that was “so deep and raw and pure that I could not escape”, Lamott went home and surrendered. “F**k it: I quit,” she exhaled. “All right. You can come in.” This, she describes, was her “beautiful moment of conversion.”

From this point of departure, Lamott begins to share her thoughts, some written retrospectively, some ostensibly written in the moment, on the ways in which faith shapes her life. She shares her perspectives on raising a child, death, politics, forgiveness, money, grace, friendship, addiction, family, growing old, letting go and living with insecurities. She is a loveable mess, raising her son Sam alone, navigating life and describing her encounters with a sensitive, yet facetious eye. Her style is often touching and lovely, while making the reader laugh in the same breath. While the book’s progression is not logical and orderly, it seems to reflect the fractured way we experience life, wencouraging us to pause and take in the significance of small, seemingly insignificant moments.

Overall the book left me with a sense of warmness and appreciation for the grace of God and beauty of little things. Lamott certainly seems to write with her own principles in mind: “My deepest belief is that to live as if we’re dying can set us free. Dying people teach you to pay attention and to forgive and not to sweat the small things” (Bird by Bird, 1994: 125). There was much to be encouraged by, most of all the feeling that God meets even those, or maybe especially those, who are hopeless and broken in this world. I felt for Lamott and appreciated her candour and vulnerability. I too want to join the ranks of writers like her that can bare their souls on the page and bring earth-tested wisdom, joy and warmth to their readers.

On the other hand, I was not left without a few uncomfortable and troubling questions. I, and many Christian readers I know, will be intrigued by Lamott’s conversion story and the hilariously irreverent way she describes such a profound moment. It had the ring of truth to it in God’s relentless hounding of this hurting woman. But it was the aftermath, the life lived in response to this pursuit, that raised questions for me. The query that most often was raised in my mind was, “How can a person who has truly met God continue to live in the way that Lamott describes?” For instance, she continues to sleep around as a single mother, struggles with addictions to alcohol and prescription drugs, and certainly has no change in vocabulary…ahem.

Are these just my nice, clean, ‘churchy’ behavioural expectations? Or can a certain level of change be expected to accompany the ‘new birth’ that Jesus talks about in John 3? What I am sure of is that the way God looks on our lives is quite different from our perspective. Many church people would not spend time with this woman. Jesus would have, certainly. And yet, would not the very presence of Jesus demanded a changed heart, manifested in changed habits of feeling, thought and action? Does not his presence with us today demand this from us?

I am reminded of the words of C. S Lewis in asking whether Christians become “nice people, or new men.” He argues, “If Christianity is true it ought to follow a) That any Christian will be nicer than the same person would be if he were not a Christian. b) That any man that becomes a Christian will be nicer than he was before” (Mere Christianity, book 4, ch. 10). By this reasoning, the proof of the effect of Christianity in the book is therefore whether Ms. Lamott is a better person than if she were not a Christian and a better person than she was before. I think it does. I do believe that the new life within must be evidenced by a new life without. But I also must admit that discipleship is a trajectory and not a fixed point. Like all living things, the test of life is growth, and no matter how nascent and frail this growth is, it is proof of vitality. It makes me uncomfortable and I know there is so much more to a life of freedom, wholeness and holiness. But I also know that God sees every indestructible seed that he has planted and knows perfectly well what oaks and cedars he will form out of them. For now, let each disciple fix their eyes on the Master and follow.


Reading and Book Reviews: A New Year’s Challenge

This year I have set myself the goal of reading at least twice as many books as I did last year. In 2014 I completed fourteen books, with many more started but left languishing on the shelf. This was a very poor showing, so this year I am aiming to read three books per month.

In addition to this, to aid my retention and engagement with the text, as well as to offer the world something back as a result of my reading, I have challenged myself to write a short review of each book I complete.

The rules for these reviews will be:

  1. The book must have been read from cover to cover, regardless of speed.
  2. Audio-books count.
  3. Reviews will be no shorter than 500 words and no longer than 1000, give or take.
  4. Reviews will be written within a month of reading.

By the end of 2015 I will have read at least 36 books and written thoughtful reviews for each. “God speed”, I hear you say?

Apologetics, Reflection, Theology

What Life Should Feel Like


Perhaps the most beautiful thing I’ve experienced is the sense of joy that comes from being who I truly am. It’s that feeling of knowing that you are not wearing a mask, that your guard is down and you are free to exist as the person you were made to be.

Our deepest relationships should bring that feeling out in us. Whether it is in friendship, marriage or family, there is a joy that comes in feeling that you can be yourself. It’s a sense of being completely vulnerable and yet loved and appreciated.

There is a freedom that only comes through this being fully exposed and in the light. All pretence fades away, all fear is banished, and the joy of truly being known emerges.

Its such a pure feeling, untainted by tension, hurt or anxiety. Those are the times when I’ve most truly felt alive. Alive not just in the vague sense of existence but in a glowing spark of joy in my deepest soul.

I’ve felt it in my relationship with God, a sense of nearness to Him that ignites inspiration, creativity and happiness. A sense that I can stand confidently as His son and be secure in my identity. It creates a flow of songs, words, and closeness to those around me. In those moments I know that I am somehow connected to a longing wedged in the core of my heart and that this is the way life is meant to feel. Like a favourite song, it seems to hit all the right notes.

We are supposed to feel that aliveness in every waking moment. But why don’t we? But why do I not live in this joy perpetually?

In a million little ways I continually betray that knowledge of the way things should be. I break my agreement with life and with my creator by momentarily chasing after transient feelings or objects. My hearts knows I’m missing the point and yet I compromise again and again. I trade the joy of purity in living for God’s truth and beauty for fleeting pleasures and fading glory.

That betrayal destroys the purity of life. I turn my back on what I know is the standard, on what I know is really real, and as I do it, that flame of inspiration begins to die. That incredible light that penetrates my being and allows me to be fully known and loved is gradually darkened. That spark that made me feel alive is dulled into a drudgery of mere existence.

It takes the courage to confess my shortcomings for that light to come back in. It is an honesty that takes away the mask and reveals my true face, that no longer hides behind a false image and allows itself to be known in the terrible light of truth. I walk in purity to the extent that I allow myself to be known for who I am inside.

I want to live and walk in that soul-piercing light. I’ve caught glimpses of what life should feel like and I know that purity is essential to achieving it. The joy of being fully exposed before God is so quickly disrupted and tainted by my betrayal. It’s so easy to let the darkness creep in and drown out the light. As it does, so does the feeling that what the darkness hides should stay hidden. The more that is hidden, the less we are truly known and the less of that spark of life we can feel.

I pray that our masks might be broken and we would allow ourselves to step into that all-penetrating light. The greater the amount of darkness we have allowed to intrude and separate us from the way life should be, the more difficult and frightening this may feel. But we can never know the true freedom of being ourselves and being connected with the way things were meant to be if we will not be exposed.

We were made to know and truly be known by our creator. If we do not feel that pure joy and sense of life then we are missing the point of existence.

Apologetics, Reflection, Theology

The End of Desire


This is a potentially life-changing truth: You desire God. You desire him more than any other thing, even when the desire you consciously feel is directed at something which he hates and forbids. We think we don’t desire God and that what we really desire is happiness in the things around us, because God is known for being the divine kill-joy. But the opposite is true underneath it all.

There is a clue to this within our desires themselves. We want the things we love to last forever. This is especially true of the thing that we want above all: love. Beyond money, success or power we feel incomplete without true, meaningful relationships with people who know us truly and yet truly accept us, value us and seek our good. But in each and every case, the good things we love come to an end. We want them to last. The reason we keep chasing after them is that they don’t. Nothing ever does. Nothing finite ever could.

Our constant pangs, then, are displaced longings for what we really want. We can’t really just want money and sex and control because when we get them, no matter how much, we still want more. Loving relationships offer us a glimpse of what we are truly here for, but even these must end. The party comes to a close and is tidied up. The night must draw its curtains and eventually we must say farewell to those we love. But what if we could reach the place, the person, where that fullness never ran dry? Where all of our deepest longings met their true and unending object. A love which knew no limits either of depth or time.

As experience testifies, and logic demands, this is not, and indeed could not, be found on this earth. It cannot be found either among material objects or finite beings, both of which are inherently limited. Instead,
deep down, our restless search for some bottomless joy can only be satisfied in an infinite relational being. And not any infinite being, but a being infinitely good and greater than all other goods. That good is God and can only ever truly be God. Therefore his greatest gift could only ever be the gift of himself, the only good thing which never comes to an end.

He is the end of our desire. To realise this is to be liberated once and for all from the endless goose-chase. To realise that our sense of alienation, of feeling like we’re on the outside looking in on the way life is supposed to feel, is really just a sign pointing to our true home, frees us from wasting our lives pursuing things that don’t satisfy, in order to focus on the only One who truly can. To deny this is to condemn oneself to an existence of constant desire without hope of satisfaction, a desert world where we constantly thirst, unwittingly seeking for the very One we say does not exist.

Apologetics, Reflection, Theology

Learning From the Master

Chariots of Fire4 (Large)-12732

Do you think Jesus knows anything about the life you actually lead? Or do his teachings seem nice and beautiful, but distant and unrealistic when it comes to your daily existence?

In other words is Jesus a really nice guy, but a bit naive when it comes down to it?

You can only learn from someone as long as you think they know more than you do. As soon as you think you know better you immediately stop listening. Have you ever gotten to the stage with someone who was training you where you realised, “I actually know more than this person,” or, “I’m actually smarter than this person”? Whether it’s true or not, rather than learning, you begin to patronise them and, if not simply annoyed at the waste of your time, pity their ignorance as well.

The teachings of Jesus are universally acknowledged to be among history’s highest moral ideals. But are they only that: ideals? Unattainable perfectionisms? Pretty words which hold little to no value in the tough reality of life?

Turn the other cheek? Love your enemies? Forgive the same person 490 times at minimum? Doesn’t he know the world out here? That kind of weak, pushover mentality will get you no where.

Now, maybe you’ve never thought that. But this is only one way to disconnect Jesus’ words from having actual, real-life significance. Christians don’t tend to be that flippant. But there are plenty more ways to effectively invalidate the Master’s words.

For instance, maybe you believe his teachings are good, but that they are simply impossible to carry out. Isn’t this proven by experience? I mean, have you ever seriously tried, even for a single day, to live out his principles? And so we come to the conclusion that we are not able to obey, or at most that we can only obey in some vague, spiritual manner. We think we have tried and it hasn’t worked.

But have we tried it the correct way? What if Chesterton is right, that Christianity has not been tried and found wanting, but rather it has been found difficult and left untried. What if we are completely misunderstanding the nature of Jesus’ teachings and how we are supposed to go about obeying them?

Imagine Jesus’ words were not simply commands to obey in the moment of the situation, but descriptions of a certain kind of life, a kind of character in which turning the other cheek, or loving one’s enemies is the most natural response.

Let’s take a real life example. Suppose I commanded you to run a four-minute mile. Suppose you are morally required to do it. So, taking the command seriously you go to the track and you try your absolute best. You give it everything you have. But you don’t make the cut. Not by far. Does that prove that my command was impossible? Or might it suggest your method was slightly off?

The ability to run a four-minute mile does not only come from the direct effort of the athlete in the moment, but from an entire life dedicated to training for that moment. The athlete has engaged in the right practices and lifestyle so that when the moment comes they can actually do what they want to do. In fact, when this kind of lifestyle is pursued at length, it becomes just as unnatural to run in any other way as it once was to run in the right way.

Of course, this analogy is very incomplete. There are many of us who could never run a four-minute mile, no matter how hard we trained. But could we learn to be the kind of people who obey Jesus naturally, simply because that’s the kind of person we are? Should we expect to be able to simply obey him when the moment arises, when our life disciplines have not prepared us for this?

God wants to bring us to the place where we obey him naturally because it’s part of who we are.

This can only come through instilling the character of Jesus in us so that we unthinkingly act in the same way he did. The central question therefore goes from “What Would Jesus Do?” to “What would lead me to being the kind of person Jesus was?”

He really is smart you know.

Think of what it’s like in the teacher’s shoes? Have you ever been in the position of trying to teach someone who thinks they already know everything? They say they know, yet you see what they do and immediately realise how mistaken their self-conception is. You, as the teacher, know in an instant how far the reality is from the imagination or pretension. You know that they need to go through a process of shaping in their skills and character before they will be able to complete the task correctly.

Have you ever seen this happen? It’s embarrassing. Everyone can see. The charade is pointless. It’s paper thin. I wonder if this is how we look much of the time, in our ignorance and pride, to our loving Master.

The only answer is to let go and learn to do the things he did which made him the person he was.


Am I Building My Babel?

On a hope deferred.

Am I building my Babel?
Brick upon brick
Constructing an edifice
Of my own achievement,
A monument, a stairway
Ascending by the effort of my own might.

Am I building my Babel?
A ziggurat or articulate
Profound, impressive thought,
Words are it’s stones,
Thoughts it’s mortar,
The materials with which a man
Makes his mark on the universe,
Though veneered with a sparkling
Coat of praise,
A dialect which aggrandises the speaker
And not the Subject.

Am I building my Babel?
Am I building my Babel?

Am I building my Babel?

Unawares, an effort to reach heaven
Which in truth tries to
Become it’s equal.

May this tower be decimated.

Am I destroying my Babel?
Am I rebuilding Jerusalem?

January 2013

Apologetics, Reflection, Theology

The Person You Want to Be


What God cares about is not exactly our actions. What he cares about is that we should be creatures of a certain kind or quality–the kind of creatures he intended us to be.
C.S Lewis

When I call someone to be a Christian, what am I calling them to? To be like me? I hope not, even if God has done great things for me. To adopt a Christian lifestyle? This is not attractive to most people because they think it means the end of their fun. Of course, it will mean the end of some things they currently do, think and feel for pleasure. But part of the process of learning the depths of what we’re meant for is learning that those things are actually faint replicas of what they promise to be. The child plays with the toy cars and will not let them go only because she cannot imagine the joys of driving a real car and the places it can take her. 

Instead of this, what if we point to Jesus? The call and the end of being a disciple of Jesus is to become like him. To reflect his image, to bear his character. To become the kind of person that he is. Cut from the same cloth and sculpted from the same marble. To be called as a Christian is to become a new kind of person. The Christian life is then learning to live your life as He would if he were in your shoes. 

Is Jesus a good person? If you could, would you like to be a person like him? Free from addiction, worry, anxiety, vice, hatred, violence, envy, greed. Free to love, bless other people, enjoy the world and the people in it, heal the sick, comfort the sad, seek justice, be merciful, be kind and gentle. Free to be and live the way you were always meant to be. This is wellbeing. 

You can be. Come to him and he will help you. Learn from him. He will make you his child, and as you live as his disciple following him, you will be put on a path to becoming exactly like him. Your character will be completely changed. Your thoughts, actions and feelings will be transformed so that you naturally do the kinds of things he did. For you will gradually become the kind of person he was. This is the aim and goal of your existence.