Tag Archives: spirituality

Sacred Images for Polish young people

A new exhibition in Plymouth explores through photographs the things that young migrants from Poland consider to be sacred or spiritual. Fourteen Polish people in their 20s were each given a digital camera and asked to take photos of what represents something sacred to them. They were then interviewed about the photos.

Some of the photos are what you might expect – photos of Catholic church buildings, statues of Mary (there are a number in Plymouth that I had never noticed) or other things obviously associated with religion. Other photos, however, were more surprising, such as a mobile phone with showing an incoming Skype message or a photo of friends on a picnic. One person simply took ten photos of his wife.

These things, although not obviously spiritual, offer a connection to their families and the traditions that have been left behind. For some, finding equivalent outlets offer the support and connection to home. So, a picnic with friends, for example, is not the same as a traditional family meal but it suffices as a substitute. Practising their religion here is also different. Catholicism is a way of life in Poland and is done almost without thinking because it is so steeped in the culture. In the UK, where religion is no longer as embedded in people’s habits, church is a conscious choice. For them, it reminds them of what it means to be Polish.

The exhibition, entitled “Why Religion Matters To Young Polish Migrants”,  runs in Plymouth Catholic Cathedral from 21st November for two weeks.

I’ll post up some photos when I can.


Slam (Nick Hornby) – a book review

Slam is another novel from Nick Hornby, one of my favourite authors. Whilst not up to his previous highs of A Long Way Down, or High Fidelity, the book has some good things going for it. It is written in Hornby’s usual light and witty style. And again, he deals with some serious issues.

Sam is a teenage boy who loves skateboarding. He’s been brought up by his mum, who was a teenage parent when she had him, and doesn’t he know it! He almost carries around the guilt that he ruined her life and he is determined not to fall into the same trap. But generally has a good relationship with his mum. He is a fairly typical teenager – one who is bored by school and who ends relationships simply by stopping calling.

However, by accident (of course), he gets Alicia, his girlfriend, pregnant. His initial reaction is to run away to Hastings, get a job, start a new life, and forget about everything. Of course, that doesn’t work and he comes home and faces up to what has happened. The rest of the book is about how Sam deals with it and comes to some maturity. Near the end, once the baby is born, the book starts to drag a little, but as I said, there are a few good points worth looking at.

Firstly, the book shows quite clearly that sex can make babies, even when you try to be careful. Current society has divorced sex from family in a way that often hides this. At no point in the book is the pregnancy a ‘problem’ that just needs to be ‘dealt with’. The pregnancy is always a baby. Abortion is mentioned but Sam and Alicia never seriously consider it (although it might have been interesting to see in the book how this conversation might have gone). Their priority is to get through the next nine months and afterwards.

Secondly, Hornby employs an interesting way for Sam to think through his feelings. Sam, being a skateboarder is a huge fan of skateboarding legend Tony Hawk (who is actually a real person). Sam has a poster of Tony on his bedroom wall and knows the words to Tony Hawk’s autobiography by heart. As a result, Sam seems to talk to Tony through the poster, and Tony talks back through the words of his book, Tony acts as a sort of interactive god to Sam, giving advice and thoughts. This reminded me a little of the Orthodox use of icons in order to commune with God, except that Tony isn’t God. It shows Sam’s need for a spiritual ‘other’ – a higher power to aspire to and to guide.

The end of the book starts to drag a little, especially once the baby is born. And it gets a little predictable. Not Nick Hornby’s best book by any means, but it’s a short read, has some funny moments, and some thoughtful ones.

Bible-believing Christians – Velvet Elvis 2

Martin Luther, Wycliffe, Cranmer and other church reformers of the fifteenth and the sixteenth century were some of the first to suggest that the Bible should be available in the languages of the people – English for the English, German for the Germans etc. Previous to that, people generally didn’t own their own Bibles, the church would own one in Latin which the priest would read and interpret for them.

Everyone having access to the Bible was a wonderful thing. But it didn’t half cause problems. Almost as soon as the reformation caused a split in the church between Protestants and Catholics, the church split again into smaller denominations – lutherans, calvinists, anglicans, anabaptists, puritans and so on. They all read the same Bible, but came to different conclusions on what certain parts of it mean (not, I might add, on anything fundamental like the deity of Jesus, the Cross etc, but mostly on issues of practice.)

It is fantastic that now everyone can read the Bible for themselves. But doesn’t that lead to the possibility of everyone understanding it differently?

I am a Bible-believing Christian, but what does that mean?

It means I take the Bible seriously and I work to understand it and apply it to my life. I consider it inspired by God. There are no parts of the Bible that I can simply ignore, but I work to understand what it meant when it was written and what it might mean for us now. I don’t pretend to understand it all.

Having said that, there are many other people who also ‘believe the Bible’ who come to different conclusions from certain passages than I do. Rob Bell, in his book, Velvet Elvis, mentions a lady he met who said something like this “I just believe the Bible”. But at the same time, she describes her faith as ‘a personal relationship with Jesus’. The phrase ‘personal relationship’ is not found anywhere in the Bible. It’s not a bad phrase, it can describe what being a Christian is like so long as you define what it means, but the point was that someone had interpreted what it means to know got and summed it up in the phrase ‘personal relationship with Jesus’ So, Rob points out, that she obviously believes a lot more that just what is found in the Bible – she believes in the interpretation of the person who told her that phrase too. So, everything is interpreted.

Rob bell says:

“The idea that everybody else approaches the Bible with baggage and agendas and lenses and I don’t is the ultimate in arrogance. To think that I can just read the Bible without reading any of my own culture or background or issues into is and come out with a ‘pure’ or ‘exact’ meaning is not only untrue, bit it leads to a very destructive reading of the Bible that robs it of its life and energy”

How can we be sure we have the right interpretation?

This is his point. The Bible is inspired, and it’s words are ‘living and active’ because they came from a God who is ‘living and active’. This is why we shouldn’t just read the Bible alone, we should read it in the context of prayer, and of a community who prays, thinks, and supports each other. Point of the Bible is to point us to God, and the joy of reading the Bible comes from a desire to seek God and wrestle with the texts as we apply them.

Rob Bell again:

“The writers of the Bible are communicating in language their world will understand. They are using the symbols and pictures and images of the culture they are speaking to That’s why the Bible has authority – God has authority and is present in real space and time. The Bible is a collection of stories that teach us about what it looks like when God is at work through actual people. The Bible has the authority it does only because it contains stories about people interacting with the God who has all authority”

It has authority because God has authority, not because it fell from the sky as a holy book.

PostSecret: prayers and confessions

PostSecret is an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a homemade postcard. There are no rules. Everything is anonymous. People simply write their secret, as creatively as they like and send it in. It is worth checking out.

I don’t want to get into a discussion of whether this is art or not – some of the entries have artistic skill and some do not. But they seem to come from deep within people.

The project was started ust to see what would happen, I don’t think the organiser was expecting such deep and profound longings. Sometimes people send in hopes – “I wish I was thinner”, sometimes thanks –

“To the man who held my hand and made sure my son was ok when I totalled my car 9 years ago, I’m sorry I didn’t astk your name but I will never forget your kindness”,

but most of the time the secrets are confessions, guilts, hurts, or longings that they dare not tell anyone else. For example

“I would like to know who it was, so I could start hating the right person, and not me”.


“By the time you get this, I will already have made a HUGE mistake”

“I’m afraid I won’t be strong enough to raise my son to be be the man that his father failed to be”

“Even though I know my way around this town, sometimes I get so lonely that I ask strangers for directions, just to talk to someone.”

I own the first postsecret book, and I get the weekly blog roundup of the new postcards. Most of them make me feel sad. Telling someone your secrets is theraputic, and this blog seems to be doing the job of an external spiritual higher power. Are these prayers – I think some of them are, but without the expectation of them being answered. How do we address such emotions such as the fear of being a failing father, overcoming self-loathing, letting people in to see the real ‘you’? This project airs these questions, but it does not answer them. It cannot answer them, they are too big. Wheredo we find the answers and the acceptance and the forgiveness for these things?

Questions, questions, questions, Jump – Velvet Elvis 1

I’ve just started reading Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell. So far, I’m loving it. He basically says that people can see Christianity in two ways. He uses the analogy of a trampoline to descibe Christianity. Being a Christian is getting on and jumping, the doctrines of the faith are the springs in the trampoline  – the framework, the things that allow you to jump. They stretch and flex. If one is being questioned, the others still support it.

 The second way is to think of each doctrine as a brick. Put the bricks together and they make a wall. Bricks don’t flex. Walls keep people in and keep them out. The bricks might seem like a firm foundation, but bricks all hold each other up. Take one out and the whole wall may fall down.

For example, some Christians believe that the world was made in six literal 24-hour days. (I don’t, but fair enough if you do). If we use the brick model, this doctrine might me one brick. OK. But what happens when that one brick starts to become questioned? What happens when arguments concerning intelligent design or some sort of evolution start to become compelling? Well, the whole wall may fall down. In the book Rob Bell quotes a preacher who actually said that if you didn’t believe the world was made in six 24-hour days, you are effectively denying that Jesus ever died on the cross. This is what Rob Bell means when he talks about a ‘brick’ – the whole wall falls down.

Instead, faith is like the trampoline. It is about getting on and joining in. You don’t have to have every single doctrine worked out, the springs still help ou to jump. In fact, Bell says that Christianity is about the jumping – discovering the mystery of God by asking the questions, testing the springs, and doing it with God.

And that is how it works really isn’t it. We never discover it all. We never get full answers to our questions – but we tend to get more questions.  Acknowledging the questions is freeing and humbling. When Moses got to go up the mountain to talk to God (Exodus 3:14), he effectively asks – Who are you? What is your name? The response in confusing. God says “I AM WHO I AM” (or “I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE”). It is an answer. It’s enough to say, I am here, was here, I will always be, but it opens up a whole load more questions. How is he here? Did he always exist? How do we relate to him? What does this mean for me? and so on. The act of finding the answers to the questions, is the act of coming towards God. Get on the trampoline – come and join the questioning about the Almighty God, and enjoy the experience of living life with him.

I find this incredibly freeing – we don’t have to have it all worked out, but we can come to God and begin to ask the questions. The truth is the mystery of God, and we can all jump on and live the mystery with him, and delight in the jumping.

I’m looking forward to reading more of what Rob Bell has to say. He gives a different spin on it, focusing on the ‘living with God’ rather than the ‘beleiving the right things’.