Oblivion

Oblivion wants to a big science-fiction epic with things to say about the human condition. Whilst it does have that – the film touches on some very contemporary fears in the shape of drones, genetics, artificial intelligence, the trustworthiness of God and the ubiquity of Morgan Freeman – it’s let down by one big problem. I call it the Return Of The King problemPrecisely: the film appears to end at least three times before it actually does. In the case of the third film in the Lord Of The Rings, I was able to forgive that because I’d been so richly entertained over the previous two and half films. Peter Jackson had by then earned some self-indulgence (someone tell him, by the way, that he has to earn that all over again now). By the time Oblivion tricks you into thinking it’s ending for the third time, it hasn’t done quite enough to buy you off. Nearly, but not quite.

It’s a Tom Cruise film. I’m not averse to him as a leading man and with the right director or the right material he can be really good (Mission Impossible franchise, Magnolia are my first exhibits for the defence); he doesn’t have enough direction or material to do that here. What he does have is a plot twist which buys him and the under-used Olga Kurylenko out of what could be thought of as some lazy acting. Halfway decent genre-films like this need to demonstrate an awareness of the genre’s classics first, and Oblivion does that. It’s a science-fiction movie set on a ravaged earth in a future where earth’s inhabitants have won the war but lost the planet. Tom Cruise and his partner are on clean-up and security duty. So, duly invoked we have – in no order – Moon, Forbidden PlanetSilent RunningTerminator and a whole load more. Unfortunately it pales by comparison because there’s no energy to the direction, no shock, no fear, no convincing self-doubt when it’s needed. The big twists may be fairly unexpected, but they’re also unconvincing; all shown up, and not in a good way, by the problem of the three endings. By then, two hours had felt like a lot more.

This is not a bad film; there’s enough in here to divert, provoke and entertain (and, if you’re a preacher, provide a handful of illustrations). It’s just not good enough to really stay in the memory and let you explore those thoughts more deeply. Which makes your realise, ironically, that Prometheus was a much better film than many realised.

I rated this film 3.5/5 on rottentomatoes.com and 6/10 on imdb.com

The Compassion Quest by Trystan Owain Hughes

I finished reading this in the week of the Boston Marathon, a week which highlighted that for all the shock and outrage which following an attack, terror has become everyday. There were other bomb explosions around the globe  that day – in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. The Boston bomb, as outrageous and disturbing as it was, remained the least effectual terror attack of the day … if you measure these things with the awful and simple matrix of lives lost. The shock of so many at one attack when terrorism remains a daily reality for so many suggests we’ve lost perspective, that fear and cruelty have numbed us. We have to shut it out; when it comes close to home, we allow it fill our consciousness for a few days, for as long as the news channels keep it front and centre.

This is another effect of what charity fundraisers can call ‘compassion fatigue’; you grow tired and immune to the suffering of those who aren’t right in front of you. It’s only when suffering gets right in our faces that we’re forced to pay it closer attention; the logic goes that it’s the job of the fundraiser to keep the suffering front and centre and thus to ensure the funds keep flowing.

The Compassion Quest, the wonderful new book from Trystan Owain Hughes, suggests an alternative, a way to keep compassion alive. The reason is not so much to raise more funds for charity, though if we all paid attention to the book’s suggestion that may be a positive side-effect, so much as to awake us all to life as we are meant to live it. In his first book – the concise, brilliant Finding Hope And Meaning In Suffering, Trystan Owain Hughes didn’t seek to explain suffering, but to offer us a map through it. If you we’re to summarise its endpoint – and you really shouldn’t settle for just a summary – you’d say that the book called for mindfulness. Mindfulness of who we are and the world God’s placed us in, and a resultant thankfulness and appreciation; these are things which equip us to live through suffering. This book builds on that; to take us beyond ‘just’ surviving difficulties and pain, to living well in the world around us, building good and life-giving relationships with other people, the world and the things in the world.

This, like the first book, is brilliant and accessible theology for real people. Owain Hughes, in little over 100 pages peppered with insights from all manner of books and films and music, suggests seeking and embracing a sense of our mutual interconnectedness. Relationship – with people, with the created order – leads to stability and a recognition of yourself in the other. There’s something important to grasp here – some will see in this pseudo-spiritual new age inflected tree-hugging. That would be to do this a grave disservice. The author’s orthodox (in the best sense of that word) theology of creation and the incarnation of Jesus rescues us from those to skewed theologies which sees men (humans) and men (males) as there to lord themselves over the rest. This is a theology of humble awe at the breadth of what God has made; a theology which invites us to love with a thankful awareness of everything that’s around us; a theology which sees God-reflecting life everywhere; a theology that recognises the thin margins separating us, against which we are usually more wont to build draw-bridges and moats.

There’s much more to be said about this deep and rich book, but really you should read it for yourself. Like my favourite spiritual theologian, Eugene Peterson, reading this book you feel in the company of quietly content, confident, humble wisdom grounded in good scholarship and expressed in beautiful, accessible prose. When’s all said and done, this is theology for the everyday.

I rated this book 5/5 on GoodReads.com

Outside the walls

This week is Depression Awareness Week in the UK.

I know a man who had to take some time off from his job in a church. A working relationship had broken down to the point of him becoming ill, experiencing a serious bout of depression. Relationship break-downs are complex affairs and as a result the church as a whole wasn’t told why he was absent. Complex as it was, this was a mistake; rumours started to circulate of absence from work for reasons of illegality or immorality, none of which were fully denied by those who had the power to do so. When some of those aspects of the truth which were appropriate for the public domain were allowed into the open, it was too late for some relationships. By then the man was within minutes of suicide.

What’s at the heart of that? A lot, to be sure. There’s a much longer story to be told. Maybe one day it can be revisited; maybe not. There’s explanations, qualifications and different sides of the truth which would doubtless have to be explored and explained. What can be said is that there’s something at play here which speaks to a wider truth; that many of us Christians – and especially we charismatic-evangelical ones, for this was in a charismatic church – are scared to bring issues of mental illness in our communities into the light. Some of us are scared; and when we’re scared of something because we don’t fully understand it, it’s easy to end up with stigma. We keep the thing we’re scared of at arm’s length, away in a locked room, unspoken of and unnamed; or given a different, more comfortable, more morally quantifiable name. We prefer explanations that are easier to explain – illegality  or immorality, in the case of this man. That’s much easier than naming it depression, mental health problems; we know where we stand on pastors who have affairs or who break the law. We’re less certain when it comes to Christians (and especially Christian leaders) with depression. Christians are meant to rejoice and walk in victory, so depression doesn’t fit. So some of us push it away and give it another name, find a different box to put it in. Very few, if any, of the people involved in that story I told are likely to articulate it thus; but it’s there in the subtle ways we find to come up with alternative narratives. It’s a human reflex, a knee-jerk reaction which can seem as inbuilt as hair colour or height.

Stigma. The hiding of the dirty secret which may not actually be that dirty, but can make you feel soiled. It alienates, distances, lies, covers-ups … and depends on a lot of other factors to be maintained. It springs from fear that others will see us differently, fear of something we can’t quite understand or explain, something which once it’s out of the box can’t be controlled and can’t be put back in. Stigma stains, soaks into the fabric and can’t be washed out.

That’s understandable – we believe God heals and we want to see that happen. We don’t know, though, how to pray when confronted by some things. Does a person need deliverance or healing? Does he need love or medicating? Des she need prayer or a professional practioner? The question really should be: why do we have to choose?

Here’s the breaking news: the box is open. The tragic death of Matthew Warren, mega-church pastor Rick Warren’s son who took his own life after a long battle with depression, has lifted the lid. If ever it was really securely on in the first place. Now there’s no hint or suggestion that he was stigmatised for his illness. Everything we’ve seen suggests he was held with love, compassion, dignity and grace. But the public stage of this sad story has taken the issue of depression, mental health and suicide in evangelical christianity and thrust it blinking into the spotlight. A perfect storm of stigma, circumstances, panic attacks and depression nearly killed the man of whom I spoke. He didn’t take his own life, but he was mighty close to it. He felt so trapped, so locked away, that for a while only one way out made sense. It’s hard to argue with that dark logic.

I know another man. A man who was stigmatised. Rumour, spite, manipulation, violence, cowardice and religion led him to be tortured and to hang bleeding and suffocating and dying naked on a cursed cross outside a wall, mocked and sneered at, his clothes won and lost by his executioners on the rolls of dice.

Stigma borne. Stigma owned by the one who shouldn’t have to hold it.

There’s a lid to be thrown away, questions to be asked, conversations to be had. It should start with the consideration of a man who chose stigma and let it lead Him to glory. Then it must move to those forced by omission or commission to carry stigma; it must continue with sorrow, repentance, forgiveness and understanding. It must continue thus until we’re left together at the foot of the stigmatised cross, with an ear open to the one we mistake for a gardener, calling us by name.

I have the man’s full permission to share what I did of his story. I also checked this post out with a handful of independent advisers to comment on appropriateness before finalising and posting.

Lost Church by Alan Billings

For better or worse, in sickness and in health, for richer and poorer, I am a Christian called to worship in and minister in the Anglican church. I was bought up in one, I have worshipped in several, and have committed myself before God and people to ordained ministry in that context. I am also someone whose own tradition within that context is as charismatic evangelical. I am committed to the theology and practice of that; I value other traditions greatly, but that is mine. That doesn’t mean that I sign up to everything which some people associate with that label – I interpret my tradition in the may that fits and works and makes sense for me. But it is the label which fits most naturally – if imperfectly. I am also deeply committed and passionate about a movement within Anglicanism and other denominations known as Fresh Expressions (more of that later). I see none of these things as in conflict with one another. Which is not the impression I was left with after reading Lost Church by Alan Billings.

It’s an accesible and clearly constructed book calling Anglican churches and their clergy to reconsider ministry to those who may not be fully professing Christians, but have a vague sense of belonging to the established Church of England. They may not ‘believe’ as many would understand that concept, but they have a sense of attachment, loyalty and belonging to a type of religious expression which they understand the Church Of England as providing.

In essence, that’s Billings’ call. There’s a lot that’s helpful here. He speaks as an experienced parish priest and trainer of clergy, so this is coming from a position of first hand experience. His variety of ministry contexts and  engagement with research leaves him well placed to analyse societal trends. There’s much that’s helpful and challenging for me and for people like me – I need to own the fact, as he does suggest, that evangelical Anglicans can put as many barriers as we think we are taking down for people. It’s just that we’re keeping out, sometimes, a different sort of person. There’s also a tendency amongst some in our tradition to cut ourselves off from our historical moorings and fellowship within the broader church. All of that is true, and the book was a helpful reminder and corrective to me  – even now, serving a long way from England, but still an Anglican. Societal trends in South Africa are likely to follow a similar path to that seen over recent times in the UK, so these are apposite warnings.

I had problems with the book, though. First is that I was struck by what felt to me a certain meanness of spirit. I own some of these criticisms of the traditions of which I am a part; but some of the language and tone felt at times snide and at others unfair. As a former priest in Sheffield he criticises, for instance, the high profile St Thomas’ Crookes church in that city. In the late 1980s/early 90s the church experimented with an usunaual form of worship which came out of nightclub culture. This met with initial success, before a very public moral failure, the fall of the leader and accusations (almost certainly justified) of cult-like behaviour. Billings criticises St Thomas’ for sitting outside normal Anglican structures – without mentioning the reality of the the church having been a joint Anglican and Baptist project since 1982. So of course it was going to sit outside normal structures; that’s not to excuse the failures or mistakes, but he’d have done well to point out that it wasn’t fully Anglican because that would have been to deny the essence of what that church was meant to be.  He suggests that ‘perhaps’ lessons have been learned at St Thomas’ and in similar contexts – the reality is that if you read books to emerge from St Thomas, listen to the leaders and speak to people in the Fresh Expressions movement, then they manifestly have. In the case of St Thomas’, the church has continued to grow and move into innovative, exciting models of leadership, mission and discipleship – without a hint of moral failure. That tragic series of mistakes has been learned from, but will remain fallen Churches are led for sinners by sinners so failures will still occur, but you can’t move far in these circles without hearing these lessons rehearsed.

There is the problem. For all his no doubt deep experience and valuable, committed ministry Alan Billings seems to spend time lobbing criticisms at something he doesn’t show he’s engaged with. Evangelicals do not all try to argue people through reason into a propositional set of ideas, as he suggests. Many evangelical churches are profoundly, deeply, prophetically tolerant and welcoming; not all are cold and unfriendly. Some are not, of course. Some are, though. Fresh Expressions is not ‘about meeting in any sort of building other than a church, as if a church building could only be of interest to the already committed‘; it’s about creating a ‘mixed economy’ church (to use former Archbishop Rowan Williams’ phrase in his support of the movement) which uses BOTH traditional and new models of church. It takes inspiration from the vows all priests ordained in England take ‘to proclaim the gospel afresh in this generation’; it’s rooted in Anglicanism and committed to ecumenism – so naturally it will contain elements that are not Anglican so much as reflective of other approaches. Many within the movement – as the aformentioned sinners we all are – will come across as arrogant or dismissive or loaners. Many, though, are humble, Godly people who love the church and their fellow ministers. Which is why they want to see the church grow, and even more invited into the variety of her beauty.

Lost Church blessed, challenged, encouraged, saddened and angered me. I liked it. It has an urgent message. Many who love the church should read it; I fear though that a lack of thought and understanding in places will lead to offence and regression rather than the forward movement Allan Billings clearly longs to see in the church he loves.

I rated this book 3/5 on goodreads.com

What We Talk About When We Talk About God by Rob Bell

It’s tempting and probably a little lazy to suggest that the digital era discourages nuanced thinking. It is, though, at least partly true. Certainly there’s enough evidence in social media and comment sections of (some) blogs to lead us to that conclusion – it’s easy to take a tweet out of context because there is so little context to read it in. When it’s straightforward to publish an opinion to a broad audience, it’s easy to publish that opinion without really thinking it through – and then find yourself defending something out of pride rather than because you really think that way after giving due consideration.

It seems to me that mega-church pastors are lightening rods for precisely such unguarded thinking. Infamously, Rob Bell had been dismissed by some as no longer part of the evangelical movement by many based on the pre-publicity for his book Love Wins (in fairness some maintained that viewpoint after reading the book). There were all sorts of implications to that – not least that there exists a set of guardians who get to say who’s an evangelical and who isn’t; and that Bell himself wanted to be understood as part of that camp.

In the case of Rob Bell, or more precisely opinions held about him, we see this lack of nuanced thinking writ large. The implication of much of the debate around his work seems to be that either you accept his whole body of work or you don’t. In the heat of debate it can seem as if there’s no space to agree with some of his points but not the rest; no space to be open to the idea that Bell himself may actually change his opinion on some issues over time (don’t we all?); no space for those who just find the fact that he airs certain questions helpful even if we end up with different answers as a result of the same process.

Context isn’t everything, but is important. The church of which Bell was founding pastor was established with a mission, as I understand, to reach seekers – specifically those with a vague sense of spirituality but uncomfortable with established forms of religion. These are he sort of people who would have been very at home in 1st century Athens. Bell’s written and verbal communication style reflects that – he’s not trying to reach established Christians who like church as it is; while some of them may benefit from what he’s doing, he’s after those who are searching in different places.

What’s beyond doubt is that he is a supremely skilled verbal communicator – I’ve heard him live on a few occasions and he’s in that rare category of speakers who can hold comfortably your attention for well over an hour; I was also struck by how much he deconstructs any notion of his own popularity or celebrity; he showed willingness to talk about his failings and inadequacies.

So to his first book since leaving full time church leadership to concentrate on writing and developing other projects. What We Talk About When We Talk About God bears many of the hallmarks of his written work. It’s short; it’s clearly aimed at those who are spiritually seeking or struggling; and in the introductory sections he’s very clear that this is a book which has arisen from his own struggles and issues. He’s had a profound experience of doubt and this book is the product of an attempt to re-express his faith in a way which doesn’t give up but simultaneously does justice to the reality of the doubts.

I admit that once the book really got underway I wondered where some of it was going. He takes some really interesting and easy to read byways into areas like quantum physics – at comparatively great length in a short book – to try to help us connect with how awesomely strange the universe can be. It’s great stuff and I learned a lot, but I found myself a little skeptical of someone drifting into an area which, however well researched, is not his area of specialism. There was also too much of it – he could have achieved the same with less. When he finally takes it to where he wants to get us – awe at what God has put in motion – I was right there with him. I just could have done with taking him less time to get there.

Much of the rest of the book is Bell trying to get us to see that God is fundamentally for us, with us and ahead of us – beckoning us deeper and inviting us on. It’s warm-hearted, generous spirited stuff. It raises questions too – theologically we are left to wonder how he understands the authority of Scripture, and if there is such a thing for him as a fixed morality. Those are questions I’d like to hear him address some time. What this book isn’t, though, is marshmallow centred liberalism with nothing solid at the centre. It’s a hard-bitten, bought with blood wrestle with the reality of trying to understand the unseen and the seen together.

To answer questions which I do get asked – no, I don’t agree with everything in the book. I don’t always agree with what I read myself as having written, so how could I possibly agree with everything somebody else says? I’m suspicious of anyone agreeing with everything any one person says. No, it’s not his best work – for my money that’s Jesus Wants To Save Christians. However I want to say a big, emphatic yes – to the asking of the questions, to dealing with the reality of doubt but refusing to give up on faith, to the fact that on more than one occasion in the course of reading this latest book I put it down and said prayers of thanks and sung songs of worship. Which, at end of it all, is what the book is aiming for.

I rated this book 4/5 on goodreads.com

A Son’s Suicide

Some days it just doesn’t work out. Late on Saturday evening our time news broke across social media that the son of one Evangelical Christianity’s best known leaders had committed suicide. Of course this shouldn’t really be a public issue; it’s one family’s deeply personal soul-wrenching pain. But because of Rick Warren’s profile – this was a man who gave a prayer of invocation at Obama’s 2009 inauguration – the news was flashing around the world at the press of a button.

The story is best absorbed directly, the better to filter out speculation and innuendo. Warren’s pastoral letter to his congregation is beautiful, simple and almost impossible to read. Matthew Warren -Rick and Kay Warren’s youngest son – died at the age of 27, committing suicide after years of struggle with mental illness. What’s especially striking in all of this is a simple sentence: “Today, after a fun evening together with Kay and me, in a momentary wave of despair at his home, he took his life.” He goes on to say something which rang bells for me: “I’ll never forget how, many years ago, after another approach had failed to give relief, Matthew said ‘Dad, I know I’m going to heaven. Why can’t I just die and end this pain?’ but he kept going for another decade”. To many  – Christian or not – that seems mysterious and confusing. Doesn’t Jesus give us life in all its fullness? Well, yes. But if there’s a black dog foaming and snarling in your face, your fullness can feel very small.

A few years ago, before I entered ordained church ministry, I worked in a long-term stay hostel for young homeless people in Bermondsey, South-East London. Most of the staff were Christians; we dealt with young men and women who, like us, were all broken in some way. One profoundly gifted young man – a budding film-maker – was destined for big things. He’d got his life back on track and his career looked like it could head in a very positive direction. He’d made a profession of Christian faith (by no means an ‘object’ of the hostel’s work, but it still happened) a short time after leaving the hostel. He told us about that profound spiritual encounter in a long letter he wrote to us as a staff. Within a month he’d committed suicide.

We were floored. It took some of us months – maybe years – to process. Maybe some of us still are processing it. Processing is such a cold word really for integrating such a devastating reality into your life. What about his faith? He had something to live for now, surely? Why do this, now? The truth is we don’t and can’t know. The truth is that the option he took, and the option Matthew Warren took, is an option that’s always open. To all of us. Whether it’s in the impulse of a moment or planned meticulously, depression does this to you. It can sweep other options away in a dark tsunami, leaving you with just one, tempting you like the only ripe fruit on a tree when all the bounty of other branches looks rotten. Sometimes it’s taken, plucked almost reluctantly and gradually over times; or in this young man’s case grabbed as if time was of the essence, in a rush to get somewhere else.

I’ve heard suicide called giving in to being a victim. I don’t think that’s fair or true. It can feel in the moment like the only way of transcending the moment. That’s not to say it’s the right thing to do. It’s not. Of course it’s not. But to pass it off as victim-hood, as giving up, is too easy. Sometimes it may just make some kind of awful sense in the moment you’re in.

When you’re caught in the tsunami’s grip, what you need most is people. Checking in, asking, loving, holding you against the force that’s threatening to sweep you away. I wish I could say holding always works, always saves the life. I wish I could say that love trumps darkness every time. Eternally, it does. But in individual moments, when lies loom large with a whirlpool’s seemingly irresistible force, it doesn’t. Not for everyone. But that doesn’t mean the love was wasted, unheard or unfelt. It just meant that one day the black dog couldn’t be trained. But our God is one who hung, suffered, ached, cried and died – so we know He’s there, we know … He knows. Somehow.

We’ll always want to know why. Of course we do. We need to hear that some questions can’t be fully answered and still be answered truthfully. That doesn’t mean you can’t sit, though. Sit with the person for whom a snarling dog is the only reality. And sometimes, sit with the ones whom have been left behind.

Some helpful resources:

Mind & Soul: An excellent website looking at issues around the Christian faith and mental health

This video, and associated books, is a great way to explain what depression is like to live with, even to children

If you are considering suicide, you are not alone. Try reading this page.

Or for anyone, these two blogs are well worth reading:

1.Fragmentz’s post on World Suicide Prevention Day, 2012

2. My good friend Andy’s wonderful post

Where We Go To Find God

“we’re all a little afraid that if God’s presence is there, it cannot be here(Rachel Held Evans, A Year Of Biblical Womanhood, p36)

We live in one of the most beautiful parts of the world. The Western Cape of South Africa has some areas of natural beauty that are simply staggering (you can see photographic evidence here). Ocean, bush, mountain, wine-lands, forests – all these and more within easy reach, all of them possessed of a type of beauty that is very much their own. Then there’s the animals – wild and nearly wild in game parks. We’ve lived here for three years and in that time I’ve seen sharks, lions, rhinos, penguins, all manner of whales, giraffes, rock dassies, been on a boat surrounded by a school of dolphin, walked with elephants and much more. These places and experiences have enhanced my life and I will treasure them. Some of them have left me breathless, astonished and awestruck. I’ve learned a lot too – about animals and the environment, about the God who set it all in motion and His breathtaking creativity. Elsewhere I’ve taken driving holidays in the north of Scotland, spent many days in Kew Gardens in London, enjoyed the beaches of Cornwall, the Alps of Europe, the California coast and Yosemite.

Astonishing as these experiences have been and as much as I wouldn’t trade them for anything, none of them have bought me closer to God. They may have taught me about God, but that is something different. Very rarely has God spoken to me through them. They are not the places I usually go to in order to learn more about myself or to quiet my spirit.

I find this interesting because there’s a stream within Christian spirituality (and other traditions, I’m sure) which says that you go to the wild places to meet with God, hear His voice and grow in Him. It’s certainly Biblical – Moses and the burning bush, Adam and Eve in the Garden, Elijah resting and be re-created, and many more. On it goes into the desert fathers and beyond, through to the retreat houses of today in beautiful, usually rural surroundings. I’ve heard speakers and read authors saying the wild places are the ones we’re made for; been told that my depression will be healed by ‘getting some sea air in your lungs’; been on (some very good) walking retreats and nearly silent retreats and been invited to a variety of (usually very early in the morning) services in stunning places. I’ve sung hymns like How Great Thou Art or songs like Indescribable. On some level they move me.

They don’t lead me to encounter God, though. The wild places are not where I go to find God, hear Him speak and have Him shape me. Maybe it’s something to do with my brand of introversion, maybe it’s just because I’m not especially visually stimulated, maybe it’s for any number of reasons; but I meet with God in reading and listening – and usually by doing so in crowds. I find I’m aware of God seeking me out when I’m surrounded by others, in the mess and noise and stimulation of urban places. I find I can cram deeper into a still space when it’s paradoxically busy around me in a coffee shop or art gallery or cinema. I do my best theology in front of the Bible and the movie screen.

I can’t be the only one. People like Tim Keller have done a good job of talking about the call of Christians to the city, of the reminder that the Biblical vision of life ends in one. I love the way Jonah’s book ends with God posing an unanswered question to the title character about His divine right to love ‘that great city’. Jesus’ journey is inexorably to the city; He speaks of His love for one with maternal passion.

I’m not alone, but it can feel like it. I wonder if there’s a danger of elevating the ‘natural’ world as implicitly less fallen when in reality there’s as much troubling suffering in it as there in cities. I wonder if for a few (or maybe more) of us a love for space and things ‘natural’ may be a way of running to Tarshish, away from the dangerous but thrilling call of God to Nineveh. ‘Nature’ may point us to God, but people bear His image – and as I’ve heard Tim Keller point out there’s more image of God per square foot in cities than in the country. There’s also more sin, too; clearly I’m not suggesting God loves cities more than the country. God’s work is about redeeming and remaking all creation; I love ecology and environmental action. It’s just that I don’t see a passion to save the planet as in contradiction to a love for teeming, bustling, vibrant, diverse, smelly, dangerous urban mess.

So, a question. Or more correctly, a request for a favour. If you encounter God in the wild, quiet places, that’s great; but remember please, what I quoted Rachel Held Evans saying of a very different issue at the start of this post; we may say with our lips that God is omnipresent, but do we live as if it’s true? If you write worship songs, prepare or lead worship services, then in doing so remember to use imagery and language of the city as much as the country. If you lead retreats, try leading them in the noise rather than away from it. You never know how the people you lead actually best meet with God. You also never know where God may be lurking.