Tuesday, March 30, 2010


I have decided to find new templates for my blogs, so please bear with me as I tinker and probably make lots of mistakes.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Failure to Understand?

I found myself aghast earlier this week at the failure of someone I once looked up to as something of a spiritual mentor, which I guess he was as he was once upon a time the pastor of the church I attended. Said pastor's failure was not sexual, he hasn't been caught kiddy fiddling or messing around with the treasurer's wife. His failure wasn't one of financial impropriety, he hasn't been caught with his hand in the till or lavished himself with material goods in some misguided belief that Christians should have all the health and wealth the world has to offer. His failure was far less obvious but far more insidious. He failed to understand that the culture of a foreign country is different from that of his home country, and as such can not be judged in the same terms as he would the culture which he knows well.

This got me thinking about modern missionary work and how it is often times entirely irrelevant to the culture being evangelised, or worse completely arrogant in its assumption of cultural mores being a Christian norm. I remember a friend of mine going to Kenya in order to study and telling me about Korean missionaries whose kept servants and said servants would bow to guests. Now the employment of a servant is not something I have any particular gripe with, afterall people need jobs in order to live, however I don't recall bowing to guests being part of Kenyan culture, the missionaries had simply enforced their culture in a different place rather than finding culturally relevant ways to express the Christian faith.

I can well understand how moving from one culture to another is difficult, having done it many times, but the assumption that one's own culture is somehow more Christian than another is arrogant, and even racist in the extreme. The situation that prompted this train of thought was a letter from the pastor mentioned earlier where he described a mission trip to Eastern Europe, and claiming that the people in a given village were so poor that they would run around naked. I feel thoroughly comfortable saying this simply because for 10 years I lived in the Czech Republic, not in an anglophone expat bubble but rather in a way that was similar to the average Czech. Most of my friends were Czech, I spoke Czech, I lived and worked as a Czech and so I am comfortable is saying that the children weren't running around naked because they were poor, but rather because that is what children do in a culture which didn't have the ridiculous strictures of the Victorian era.

The failure to understand this most basic fact of a foreign culture is unfortunately rife in the independent churches whose primary aim is the numbers game rather than the quality of life for the people they claim to be reaching in their missionary work. Humanitarian aid is an important part of any mission work in my opinion, however, when people live purely from the handouts of the generous West, then you have to ask questions about the validity of the missionary work taking place. Humanitarian aid is not about creating a dependency culture, but rather a helping hand to get up and running, as such if a society or culture refuses to improve their own lot when given years of humanitarian aid, and 20 years after the fall of communism in Eastern Europe begs the question whether the aid is useful or even desirable, then the question must be asked if it isn't time to cut the aid off.

Anyway, back to my basic point, without a proper understanding of the culture one is seeking to reach and the willingness to live and work in that culture as a native, can such a person call themselves a missionary? I often think of my good friend Mark Stewart, living and working in the Czech Republic, learning Czech and making the effort the effect change in a culture which is very different from his native USA, while not inflicting American social and moral mores on the locals. To my mind, Mark is the model Christian missionary, while the letter writing classes of the Christian world like to make a splash in the shallow end and indulge in the adulation of their audiences, he is making a real difference in people's lives.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Saint Patrick's Lorica

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth and His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion and His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection and His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In preachings of the apostles,
In faiths of confessors,
In innocence of virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.

I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me;
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's hosts to save me
From snares of the devil,
From temptations of vices,
From every one who desires me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a mulitude.

I summon today all these powers between me and evil,
Against every cruel merciless power that opposes my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of women and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul.
Christ shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that reward may come to me in abundance.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through a confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation

St. Patrick (ca. 377)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Turn to hymn number....

Something I like to do on my other blogs is to post songs that have meant a lot to me over the years, so I thought I would do the same on here.

These are all songs that although I may no longer agree with the influencing theology I still enjoy listening to, simply because I like the music, even if at times they make me wonder how life would have been different had I become a pastor.

Mark Heard perhaps more than any other artist made me realise that doubt and struggle is ok, in fact it is the norm.

Michael Pritzl's work has always resonated with me, since I got the first album by The Violet Burning many years ago.

Iona are probably the one band I listen to more than any other, this song is about St Brendan, who probably reached America a thousand years before Columbus.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Book Review: Obstacles Welcome

There is a certain genre of business related literature that really gets my goat. You know the kind of thing, a tale of difficulties overcome, profits increased for the shareholders, and the (insert number) steps to success, wealth and happiness. Basically I am adverse to self-congratulatory back slapping, unfortunately Ralph de la Vega's book, "Obstacles Welcome", treads the well worn path of such literature.

A quick precis then, kid from Cuba comes to America, struggles at first then makes good, becomes CEO of a major telecommunications company and decides to write a book of inspirational anecdotes to show how he succeeded, usually accompanied by a natty alliterative number of bullet points.

Enough of the cynicism born of reading tome after tome of such works, de la Vega does have a genuinely amazing story, one which would no doubt have made a better autobiography rather than a business guide to success. But in terms of offering something insightful and innovative, he disappoints at almost every turn, yesterday's news re-worded and presented by a new face is still yesterday's news.

Nothing I haven't heard before and a choppy writing style made this a book that infuriated more than it inspired.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

To The Heart of Things

I have a great deal of respect for the medical professions, but it is one of those respects that likes to keep them as far away from me as possible. On Tuesday though it was impossible for me to maintain my distance, mainly because of the near constant beratings of Mrs Velkyal to go to the doctor and get my swollen leg sorted out.

I am not going to go into the medical details of the leg issue, suffice to say that the problem with the swollen leg had affected my back because of walking awkwardly, so I was expecting some muscle relaxers and being told to ice the swollen leg. Instead, the doctor sent me to the local hospital for an ultrasound to see if the swelling was a boy or a girl. It turned out that the cause of the swelling was a deep vein thrombosis in my thigh, in fact it was a rather large clot that the doctors wanted to operate on as soon as possible, to avoid it moving and causing a pulmonary embolism or stroke. So yesterday morning, after a fitful night of sleep, I went in to have the thing removed - basically the surgeon enters the vein and puts a wire through the clot, inflates balloons at either end, injects a dissolving agent into the clot and uses a spiral to break it up before sucking it out.

Enough of the medical details, after all this blog is about my spiritual issues. Being told in your early 30s that if you had waited another couple of days to see the doctor then the clot could have made it into your lungs and possibly killed you is a very sobering thing. It may be a cliche, but being faced with your own mortality really isn't a pleasant experience. Admittedly I wasn't face to face with death, but knowing he was quite definitely in the neighbourhood isn't nice. I was a bundle of nerves the night before the surgery, and actually going to the hospital - I have an aversion to needles and things like that, and a fear of not waking up.

Has this experience had a profound effect on my outlook in life? At the moment I honestly don't know - I am not sure profundity can be measured after a day and a bit. Did it scare me witless? Most certainly, especially given that my family, as opposed to the in-laws, are all thousands of miles away back in Europe. One thing though that it did do is help me realise just how much Mrs Velkyal means to me and that the only reason she goes on at me to live a healthier life is because she loves me. Without her constantly asking me when I was going to the doctor, I could have been in a far worse state this morning.

One thing I fear happening in the coming days and weeks is that my melancholic Celtic nature goes mad, mind you, as I am on blood thinners, and thus off alcohol for a while, it won't be fueled by beer and whisky. The last thing I need is to get all maudlin and end up depressed, although I do hope to use this experience to reflect on life and any changes I need to make, not just physical but almost emotional and psychological - I might need at some point to have a chat with a priest again.

The most important though this morning is being able to sit here and write this - that makes me happy, because I am alive, something we need to celebrate more often, all of us.