A cold

I have a cold.

It’s incredible just how much that small fact — four words — has dominated my last few days. My worldview has shrunk down and my focus is very much on myself, and on getting better. I can’t think much beyond that. This afternoon I pushed myself on and edited some of the next issue of Inspires, and then wandered down Drum Brae to collect my car (in exchange for £232.31). After that I collapsed in a heap and shortly afterwards retired to bed until my medication arrived. (My ‘medication’ was, incidentally, a chicken dhansak curry from the local, and very excellent St John’s Curry Club on St John’s Road.)

I hurt all over; my face feels as though someone has started a fire behind my nose; my throat feels raw and each swallow hurts; there is a pressure behind my forehead, above my temples.

I’ve just had a Vicks’ Vaporub inhalation, my head buried beneath a towel held over a bowl of very hot (but not boiling) water. Now I’m off to bed. I hope I sleep — I woke at 4am this morning. Tomorrow is my day off. Time to recover, and for the gas man to come and service the heating system (just in time for another Scottish summer!).

Arnold Clark 1 – 0 Kwik-Fit

One of the things I would have loved to have learned from my Dad — had he not had a triple brain-haemorrhage in 1983 and gone off to live on Planet Mental for 15 years — is car maintenance.

Dad was a draughtsman, engineer and electical engineer by both training and interest. He was the motorcycle mechanic for his bestman, Ron, before he was married and told wonderful tales of races at Silverstone and Brands Hatch, and even knew a young (and seemingly) cocky Barry Sheen while he was still a kid, and before he became a cyborg. Dad’s weekends were spent stripping down cars and bikes, and assisting Ron at races. Dad told me once that he had won a mechanics race once at Silverstone (or maybe Brands Hatch, I don’t remember); seemingly, the mechanics had a race of their own in support trucks around the track!

I never understood the contents of Dad’s tool box until just the other week. Most other workmen, joiners, plumbers and builders, who came to the house had toolboxes filled with hammers and spanners and chisels and pliers. In contrast Dad’s toolbox was (still is!) filled with hexagonal tubes on long handles, and spark plugs, and other bits and pieces, many of which I still have no idea what they are. But while visiting Farmer Auto Care a couple of weeks ago, to get a tyre replaced, I noticed that the contents of their toolboxes bore a striking resemblance to the contents of Dad’s.

It all began to make sense: it was a mechanic’s toolbox. Which made it all the more poignant that I never had the opportunity to learn more about one of Dad’s passions. Instead I am now at the whim of the RAC, Kwik-Fit and my local Arnold Clark garage on Queensferry Road.

About a month ago, on my way back from church, I drove into the forecourt at our local Kwik-Fit. My exhaust was making odd noises and I wanted someone to check it out for me. I know very little about car mechanics but I’m a good listener and something didn’t sound normal. It wasn’t much of a rattle, but above 50 mph it was quite noticeable. “It’s like someone attached a bag of baking trays to the underside of my car,” is how I described the noise.

One of the senior mechanics took the car out and ran it along the Calder Road for a bit. He took it up to 40 mph, he said, and found nothing wrong. I raised an eyebrow. He put the car up on the ramps and had a look: nothing. “It’s all fine!” he assured me. “I’m sure it’s not,” says me. He raised an eyebrow.

We’ll fast-forward past an increasingly rattley four weeks, with the speed threshold for generating this sound dropping by the week: it only happened above 40 mph … only going uphill at lower speeds … anything above 30 mph. I booked the car into Arnold Clark’s at the bottom of Drum Brae, and took it in yesterday at 8 am.

This morning I got a phone call from them — which in this fast-food, I-Want-It-Now society seemed like an inordinate length of time — to say that they’d located the cause of the noise. It seems that the interior of the ‘back box’ on my exhaust (whatever that is!) is distintegrating.

I was right! I danced around with joy. My suspicions were right, there was something wrong with the exhaust. That’s the second (and last) time that I visit that branch of Kwik-Fit. (I’d taken the car in previously suspecting that the exhaust was dodgy, they gave it a bill of health only for the whole thing to fall apart on a drive to Birmingham and required an entirely new exhaust from front to back!)

All I have to decide on now is whether I write to Kwik-Fit to tell them. It seems that the customer is always right … even this one who knows very little about car mechanics. Dad would have been proud of me.

Ascension Sermon

My sermon from this morning was about the Ascension; Ascension Day was on Thursday.

Ascension

Luke 24: 44—53
What are we to make of this rather odd story in our book of scriptures? Of a man — a prophet? — who has toured, and taught and healed for three years; who is arrested and in a rather biased and rushed trial is condemnded to a brutal, criminal’s death on a cross; who three days later is witnessed to be alive and journeys with two disciples to Emmaus, explaining the scriptures to them, opening their eyes more fully to God’s work in the world; and now he ascends into the clouds, launches into the air and disappears in front of their very eyes, like a first-century Superman crossed with magician David Copperfield. What are we to make of these extraordinary events? What possible connection can there be made between this remarkable Galilean who walked the earth 2,000 years ago, and our faith today? What can the Ascension say to us as we struggle to be faithful to God in every aspect of lives in Scotland in 2005?

To answer this, I want to go back to a basement flat in Belgravia, in central London, in the latter weeks of Lent, 1996. Because it was there that I remember vividly the moment — like an epiphany … but in Lent! — when I realised that Jesus’s death on the cross had also affected God the Father. I had been asked to preach on Easter Sunday, and as I was preparing the sermon, and pondering the readings it suddenly occurred to me, for the first time, that the death of Jesus had had a profound effect on God the Father. It sounds obvious to me now, but at the time it was a revelation.

I think, I had previously viewed God the Father’s involvement in the crucifixion as though He were some head-coach, or a military general: standing at a safe distance, in overall control but not directly involved in the action, and aware of the collateral damage that would ensue. It was part of God’s plan: Jesus would be crucified — God the Father knew that. All He had to do was give Jesus up, sit back and wait for Easter Sunday.

But what kind of Father is that, who sits back while His Son is killed — calculating, stoically unmoved, emotionally detached? It’s not the kind of father that I had — and therefore it is not the kind of Father that I expect God to be. When I realised that, I knew that I had to revise my view of God the Father’s involvement in the crucifixion of His Son.

The only conclusion I could come to was that the crucifixion of Jesus (God the Son) must have had a profound effect on God the Father, if we are to take the concept of a Trinitarian God seriously. The way that I put it then was that “God the Father must have grieved the loss of God the Son”. It was a realisation that Jesus’s cry “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” was not only the cry of God the Son to His Father, but also the cry of God the Father to His Son.

In my exploration of this I discovered a book by the German theologian Jürgen Moltmann called The Crucified God. In it he writes:

“When the crucified Jesus is called the ‘image of the invisible God’, the meaning is that this is God, and God is like this. God is not greater than he is in this humiliation. God is not more powerful than he is in this helplessness. God is not more glorious than he is in this self-surrender. God is not more powerful than he is in this humanity. The nucleus of everything that Christian theology says about ‘God’ is to be found in this Christ event. The Christ event on the cross is a God event.” (The Crucified God, p.205)

This I found staggering! It confirmed what I was thinking, but pushed me beyond. I realised that I was regarding God as two separate persons here, partly detached and independent of one another though somehow also empathising with one another. But Moltmann brings these two persons together and says: the cross happened to God the Trinity. What happened to God the Son happened to God the Father happened to God the Spirit.

I remember visiting an old, priest friend of mine in Tweedbank, near Melrose, before I was accepted for ordination training. Canon Dover asked me a simple question: What is God like? I’d been studying theology at St Andrews for two years by that point. I should have had an answer! But I struggled. My favourite answer was one that St Anselm had come up with: “God is that than which nothing greater can be imagined”; in other words, if you can imagine God, then you’ve not imagined God, because God is mysteriously greater than anything that we can think of. Canon Dover listened, smiled, and said gently “if you want to know what God is like then look at Jesus.” How foolish did I feel?!

If you want to know what God is like then look at Jesus. But we often choose to take that to mean the Jesus who wandered around the Judean countryside teaching, and healing and raising the dead, and forgiving sins and generally being a nice kind of guy — the heroic sort of person we might aspire to be. And it does mean that.

But it also means the Jesus who was nailed to a tree. It also means the Jesus who was “an outcast, accursed [and] crucified” (Moltmann, p.205). And that Jesus — the broken Jesus nailed to a cross — that Jesus, too, shows us what God is like. And therefore anything that we say about God after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ has to be said in the light of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because that is how God has revealed Himself to us: As Moltmann says, God has revealed Himself to us in the “resurrection of the crucified Christ”. God has revealed Himself to us in “the cross of the risen Christ” (Moltmann, p.204).

This, it seems to me, is what Thomas was concerned with when he told the apostles in the upper room that he wouldn’t believe unless he saw the wounds of the Risen Jesus. He couldn’t believe in a Messiah who was crucified but then returned three days later as though nothing had happened. And I think Thomas got it absolutely right. If the cross was so important to God’s plan for the redemption and salvation of humankind then the Risen Christ had to bear the marks of it. And He did. And Thomas’s response when he saw Jesus’s hands and side was “My Lord and my God”. The man Jesus of Nazareth, the Risen Christ, bore the physical wounds of what He (God and man) had endured, and on the Day of Ascension Jesus took those wounds to be forever a part of God in Heaven.

We could spend hours considering what actually happened, from a scientific point of view. How did Jesus manifest Himself? Where did He go? Where is Heaven to be found? But I don’t think that that is terribly important.

What is important is what the Ascension symbolizes for us today. The Ascension is not Jesus’s escape from the world, but the affirmation of what He has done on the cross. It is an affirmation that in His death and resurrection God (the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit) entered into the pain and suffering of humanity and redeemed it, and that He still bears the marks of that event in Heaven. It is, as it says in the 1982 Eucharistic Prayer: “In Christ your Son our life and yours are brought together in a wonderful exchange. He made his home among us that we might forever dwell in you” (p.7). The Ascension, then, is a further demonstration of how much God loves us. God became human, that we might become divine.

Lego® Star Wars: The Video Game

Lego Star Wars

Lego® Star Wars: The Video Game

What more do I have to say? As a child, I spent more hours than I could possibly imagine playing with Lego, Star Wars figures, and my trusty old computer, then a Commodore 64. Now someone has had the pleasant idea of stitching these three items together to produce Lego® Star Wars: The Video Game.

I downloaded the demo this afternoon (a cool 203 MB) and installed it. It is truly a wonder of nature. I also witnessed my nephew, Benjamin, playing the same demo on his Playstation 2 this evening when we went down to visit him for his 10th birthday.

I’ve already completed the first level. It’s almost as addictive as Star Wars Battlefront. Oh… and they’ve just announced that they are currently developing Battlefront 2. I feel like a kid again. Now, where did I put my box of Lego®?