A Story of Catastrophe and Hope

A Brief History of Armenia

The twentieth century began with a genocide which continues to traumatise the Christians of the eastern Mediterranean region. During the First World War, the predominantly Muslim Turks ruled over several non-Islamic peoples, including the Armenian Christians. It is estimated that in 1915 up to one and a half million Armenian Christians were slaughtered in a calculated and systematic attempt by the Turkish authorities to exterminate an entire people from the face of the earth.

The reason that I have chosen the Armenian Genocide (known in Armenian as Medz Yeghern, or ‘The Great Crime’) as the subject of this essay is that today, almost one hundred years after the worst atrocities of the Genocide, the systematic slaughter of an entire people seems to have been forgotten by the vast majority of people, particularly in the West. There are many reasonably intelligent and otherwise well-informed people who are completely unaware of the Armenian Genocide and who wouldn’t even be able to locate Armenia on a world map.

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A Passion for Study

Enthralling the Mind with Good Things

‘Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—enthrall your mind such things.’        

– From the Bible

I confess to a love of books and study. Books can evoke every kind of emotion from revulsion and fury to elation and delight. Some books inspire us to change the world; others send us to sleep. Some books answer our questions; others question our answers. The practice of study is both a lifelong habit and an everyday discipline. Study is more than an opportunity to increase or refine knowledge; it is the single most important opportunity that we are given to train our minds in healthy patterns of thought that determine our characters. The gift of study, therefore, consists in the opportunity it presents for the inward transformation of the heart and mind.

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Церковь без стен

«И я, Иоанн, увидел святый город Иерусалим, новый, сходящий от Бога с неба, приготовленный как невеста, украшенная для мужа своего … Улицы города – чистое золото, как прозрачное стекло. Храма же я не видел в нем, ибо Господь Бог Вседержитель – храм его, и Агнец».

– Откровение 21:1, 21-22

«Где есть настоящая жизнь, там есть Христос. И Он присутствует там не только потому что в этом есть большая нужда, но потому что там находится материал, с которым работает христианство – жизнь человека. Он пришёл спасти человека, вдохнуть в него жизнь и освятить мир. Без действенной человеческой жизни, без отношений между людьми, нет необходимости в христианстве».

– Генри Друммонд, Город без церкви

Что есть церковь? Формальный ответ на этот вопрос может быть таким: греческое слово, «ἐκκλησία», переводится на русский как «церковь», и состоит из двух частей. Первая часть, «ἐκ», означает «из» или «из – к». Вторая часть, «κλησία», означает «призвать». То есть церковь переводится как «призванный из или для» чего-то. Как идея «призванный из» термин «ἐκκλησία» в Библии имеет два значения: во-первых, церковь – это поместная община верующих людей, собранных для прославления и свидетельства в определенном месте. Во-вторых, как тело Христа, которое заключается в воплощении Божьего вечного плана для творения, спасения и прославления. Важно то, что во всей Библии нет упоминания о церкви как об организации или здании.

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The Illusion of Individual Freedom

Philosophers have speculated on it, politicians have extolled it, poets have waxed lyrical about it, people in authority have tried to suppressed it; and some people have even died for it. The issue in question is Freedom. The purpose of this essay is to provoke readers’ thoughts by considering the issue of freedom from the perspective of hope. By addressing questions such as ‘what does it mean to be free?’ and ‘Is freedom a precondition of hope?’, I will argue that ‘individual freedom’ or ‘personal freedom’ is an illusion – possibly one of the last great illusions of today’s world.

In our postmodern world, which has shattered so many illusions, there is one illusion that has remained stubbornly persistent. This is the illusion of individual freedom. Although most people no longer believe in the utopian classless society prophesised by Marx and his followers, most people (at least in the West) continue to believe in the illusion of individual freedom. But when we peel back the layers of the beautifully adorned illusion of individual freedom, we perceive a truth that is frightening and alarming. Notwithstanding considerable pretense and unconscious self-deception, the raw truth is that most of us are trapped in a predictable pattern of consumer routines from which there is little escape. We have been captivated by the superficial appeal of consumer goods that have taken possession of our lives. We often lack the imagination to conceive of viable alternatives or even to recognise the condition of entrapment in which we find ourselves. The dominant consumerist paradigm of modern society has created a black hole of hopelessness, an abyss of despair into which all vital signs of life and hope are inexorably sucked.

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The Fecundity of Nothingness and the Poverty of Plenitude

The first thing that human beings are confronted with is lack. When we were born we did not have what we needed to have in order to be satisfied. Even at the very moment of our birth we were confronted with lack. The baby feels hunger and is drawn instinctively to the mother’s breast in order to relieve the painful feeling of lacking something. Confronted with lack, the baby will cry until it is satisfied. Although, as we emerge from the trauma of infant lack, we later develop the ability to feed ourselves and provide for our basic physical needs, the painful sense of lack or deprivation will continue to follow us in one form or another for as long as live.

Yet this sense of lack should not be considered necessarily or even primarily as something negative or harmful. This sense of need and deprivation is what teaches us to think creatively – to prepare tools, to light fires, to build shelters. Anthropologists and sociologists have long acknowledged that this sense of discontent is inherent in the dynamics of human desire and is in fact the very foundation of civilisation. As Sigmund Freud once rather crudely said, the man who feels sexually frustrated finds a creative outlet for his discontent by erecting (this wordplay for Freud was quite deliberate) a cathedral or a castle. The creative effort arises from a perceived discontent or lack of something. In a very real sense, it can be affirmed, therefore, that absence and lack supply the basic impulse for human creative endeavour.

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The Crucified Creation

A Christian View on the Climate Crisis

Creation is being crucified. The American President’s recent decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Change Agreement is the latest act of violence to be inflicted upon an already tortured creation. Creation is being tormented and degraded in a process, which can only be described theologically as “crucifixion.” Nature, an innocent victim of human sin and greed, has been sold for silver and is being whipped, beaten and made to wear a crown of thorns.

What do we mean by the “crucified creation”? According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, we are losing 18 million acres of forest each year. 70% of Earth’s coral reefs will cease to exist within the next forty years. The world has lost half of its coastal wetlands. Ice caps are melting and colossal sheets of ice are breaking off Greenland and Antarctica.

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Called in One Hope

A Biblical Vision of Hope for Twenty-First Century Europe

Hope has occupied a prominent place in the thoughts and works of some of the greatest theological minds down through the centuries to the present day. The history of the church, as well as the testimony of the Scriptures, demonstrates that hope is not a static or monochrome concept but a dynamic recurring motif that appears throughout the biblical story, driving the drama on to its redemptive conclusion in Christ. As such, hope continually assumes fresh embodiments from age to age. This essay asks the question, ‘what is the meaning of Christian hope in twenty-first century Europe and how can such hope be embodied in the life of contemporary churches in that context?’ By presenting an outline of the main features of a vision of Christian hope, it is my desire that what follows might contribute to a rediscovery of the centrality of hope for Christian communities in Europe at the beginning of the third millennium.

Christian hope is eschatological hope. The vision of hope that emerges from the New Testament is one of a redeemed community, united in Christ, participating in the redemptive outworking of God’s story which finds its culmination in the glory of the new Jerusalem, as described by John. It is in apocalyptic texts, pre-eminently the Book of Revelation, that this biblical hope finds its definitive manifestation. The final part of John’s Apocalypse presents a vision of the heavenly city, the magnificence of which will be such that God’s people shall have no need of “lamps or sunlight, for the Lord God will be radiant in their midst; and they shall reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 22:5). The redeemed humanity will consist of people from “every tribe, nation and language”; there will be no denominational, tribal, ethnic or national distinctions for all have been made one in Christ and His name shall be on their foreheads (Revelation 22:4). The Church looks with a common hope to a time when God will “gather together in one all things in Christ” (Ephesians 1:10).

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Why I Am a Christian

My aim here is not to evangelise, convert or even to persuade anyone. Rather, I will try to explain and clarify the convictions that inform my perspective on issues of life and faith.

I am a Christian because I want serious and theoretically-engaged answers to the most pressing questions of human existence and cosmic purpose. I want to avoid becoming so caught up in the pressures and trivialities of everyday life that I am no longer able to be seriously concerned with such foundational questions as ‘What is the meaning of life?’ ‘Why am I here?’ ‘What do I believe in?’ ‘What do I hope for?’ ‘What are my values?’ ‘Who am I?’, and so on.

Yet I am by no means an uncritical exponent of the faith I profess. I have read the sceptical literature – including Freud’s psychological refutations, Marx’s anti-religious prophetic polemics and Nietzsche’s vehement tirades against religious truth claims. I admit that, on occasion, I have found myself in sympathy with many aspects of these sceptical critiques.

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As a loyal and long-suffering supporter of Middlesbrough FC, he has had to learn the theological virtue of keeping hope alive, even in the most hopeless circumstances!

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