Saturday 29 August 2009

Footsteps and handholds: the encouragement to climb

the cork stone on stanton moor copy

The Cork Stone on Stanton Moor is a natural gritstone feature in the landscape. It is not especially tall, yet throughout the history of this ancient place it has attracted attention and been significant. What is striking now is the obvious appeal it has to those who have the impulse to climb.

Over time a vertical series of foot and handholds has been worn into the rock. Back in the nineteenth century a set of iron rungs were fixed to the stone to make the ascent and descent even easier and safer. Nowadays climbing to the top is a fairly simple matter for those who are agile and fit enough and sufficiently motivated to try. The footsteps and handholds of countless others and the apparent added security of the iron rings is a strong inducement to have a go at this seemingly very achievable climb. They are so obvious as to be unmissable and their intention and purpose is unmistakable. The whole rock becomes a visual incitement to consider moving out of our comfort zone to do something outlandishly different. The question “do I or don’t I?” forces itself into our consciousness and demands an answer, even if a nanosecond later the answer comes back as “no way”.

What we are faced with here is the question of possibility. The tangible evidence that others have climbed the Cork Stone encourages me to believe that it can be done by ordinary people and non-specialists, whilst its limited height puts it in the category of “not-too-daunting” for a first attempt at scaling rock. 

the cork stone on stanton moor closeup of foot and hand holdsIt leaves me wondering what was in the mind of the very first individual ever to climb  the Cork Stone. What was it that compelled them to tackle the comparatively smooth surface of the rock, with not a well-worn or artificial hand or foothold in sight? Like today’s expert free climbers they must have clung to the slightest natural indentations on the vertical surface and found a route which offered just enough adhesion to hold their weight. They would have held on by their fingertips and hauled themselves upwards, all the while scanning the rock for the next natural variation or angularity which they could exploit.

Once this pioneering individual had stood on the top and caught a view no one had seen before, others would have followed, the brave, self-confident, impetuous and foolhardy no doubt being amongst the first to try. Some would have fallen in the attempt. Over thousands of years, however, those who succeeded look to have worn the route into the rock. Natural weathering and deliberate modification seems to have completed the job.

What is true of the Cork Stone is also true of Faith. Many of us come to faith because others whom we trust have made it possible for us to try it for ourselves. Throughout human history countless individuals have explored the surface of God’s presence before us. Billions of hands and feet have found enough grip on the reality of God to haul themselves upwards towards a very different view of life. Their experiences are worn into the collective experience of humanity. The Bible helps us to understand what this risky business is going to be like and of where and how we can expect to find grip. When confronted with the sheer reality of God, we don’t have to figure the route out de novo. The life and death of Jesus offer iron-clad handholds to getting God right. Our hands and feet go where others have trusted to put theirs.

And because of those whom we trusted, courageous faith-climbers who seemed to have a different viewpoint on life and one which was so attractive and compelling to us, there are those of us who dared to touch the rock with climbing intent for the first time. We raised ourselves off the ground trusting to both the rock of God’s love and the footsteps and handholds of all those pilgrims who had climbed this way before us. And now there is no going back. The thrill of the free climb and the vision of transforming the world which it entails is so utterly enthralling. Clinging on to this very personal experienced truth of God and feeling its solidity keeping me aloft,  is actually so much more than I could ever ask for or need. Faith turns out to be sublime.

Thursday 27 August 2009

No way in or out?

bricked up door and blocked window ay monyash

Monyash, Derbyshire

From across the street only the solitary dressed stone lintel betrays the fact that there was once a doorway here . Close up the stonework tells the same story but offers no reason why this was so. Looking to the right the window might shed some light on what lies inside, except that on closer inspection this too has been blocked off from within. Several planks behind the panes of glass and a sheet of corrugated iron pushed up against the slatted wooden grille keep the interior safe from prying eyes. From street side nothing gets in or out this way anymore, neither people nor light. And I want to know why. What is the story?

Of course to an imaginative gaze other avenues of thought emerge. The image is lifted from its particular story and context and, as art, it engages us from within and behind the street side facade we present to the watching world. It speaks to and from the things which matter most to us to challenge and shape our awareness and intention.

As someone who is passionate about the life-liberating and radically subversive embodiment of the love of God which we see in Jesus, and of his gospel for the poor, oppressed and excluded in life, I am minded and moved to think that:

Perhaps this image  speaks of those who are shut away in hellish lives behind closed doors and out of sight.

Perhaps this image speaks of those who are shut out and excluded from the good things in life.

Perhaps this image speaks of the very antithesis of faith, of a space deliberately shut off from encounter and vision.

Perhaps this image speaks personally and provocatively to you and me in ways that will yet become clear.

Perhaps this image speaks of an insight which God wants us to grasp and act upon.

Who knows. One thing is certain however. Images have the power to speak deep down into our soul, if we will only open up the door and let in the light to that precious place we call our imagination.


See Sally’s Poem based on this image

sacred sights, heartfelt yearnings

On a delightful summer Sunday afternoon several young families picnic and relax at the Nine Ladies stone circle on Stanton Moor in Derbyshire. This bronze age site is intimate in character and its scale is welcoming and inviting. And on a day like this its woodland location is tranquil and idyllic. Small wonder then that these people appeared to be having a lovely time. Along sandy paths through the gloriously purple heather a steady trickle of folk were making their way to this sacred clearing in the woodland. As is usually the case with stone circles, the views from this location are wide-ranging and all-encompassing,  once you leave the contemporary woodland that is. Up on Stanton Moor there is a sense that all is in view. The reasons why our ancestors choose this place to venerate / celebrate their dead and engage in ritual cannot be known, but they can perhaps be felt. The stone circle serves as a visible reminder to reflect on that which is beyond us, around us and within us.

nine ladies stone circle stanton moor looking north

nine ladiess tone circle stanton moor facing south copy

stanton moor location of nine ladies stone circle in woodland

nine ladies stone circle displayboard

handmade pagan symbol hanging on treeAnd anyone who encounters this sacred place today can engage with it unhindered by precedent, tradition or authorised religious ‘keepers of the sacred stones’ – those who would determine what is permissible and expected,  and how and when one should, might or could use the site. The site is always open and accessible, available and waiting. There are no locked doors, special times of entry or particular liturgies. The stone circle is what it is and will be what it will be within the free imaginations of its many visitors. Such insight as they might gain is a matter for themselves, unprompted and unbounded by anyone or anything else. It speaks of a spiritual freedom which is at once refreshing and daunting. I imagine this can be a place for being with mystery, a space of waiting, and its very openness and intimacy could well elicit access to one’s heartfelt yearnings. Perhaps, too, it is a place within which one can feel encircled by care and not alone. One way or another one might reasonably expect this to be a place of deep encounter.

Four thousand years on and there are still those who come handmade pagan symbol hanging on tree 2here with a more carefully crafted spiritual intent. The large tree to the right of the first photograph bears witness to their activities. Its lower branches carry several pieces of brightly coloured ribbon and some beautifully worked handmade pagan symbols, two of which are illustrated here. Clearly this is a site with spiritual significance for seekers of divinity within and through the natural world, a special place which evokes and enables connection with that which is sacred to these particular seekers after meaning.

Reflecting on my time in this ancient place I am encouraged to learn from these sights and insights. As we try to find fresh ways of expressing the ancient truths of our Christian faith I am struck by the hallowing of place and space which I find here. Re-connecting with creation and holding it as sacred within the encircling, enfolding and encompassing presence of God is a very authentic Christian worldview.

The very openness of the circle and the panoramic prospect from the Moor challenge all that is shut in, closed off, inward-looking or narrow-minded. The church being accessible to all those who are seeking, and being so on their terms, is another challenge I recognise only too well. And what of church being a safe space in which heartfelt longings can be acknowledged, held and explored, and insight gained creatively and imaginatively?

Of course what I don’t find here amongst the ancient stones and the relaxed casual visitors is an integral faith imperative to change the world and to plunge sacrificially into the distress and injustice of life. Faith on my terms is not the same thing as faith on God’s terms. I need the Jesus of the gospels to show me what a God-shaped life looks like and to take me beyond myself to the needs of others. If the stone circle reminds me to connect and encounter, to hallow and to cherish, and of the importance of viewpoint, vista and insight, in my seeking of the sacred, it is Jesus who points me beyond myself to the sacred in other people who are equally made in the image of God. Faith on God’s terms is no picnic, for it necessarily challenges  us to encircle the whole world in our care. Yet it is the trustworthy ancient truth which still brings life and engenders hope to those whose hearts and minds are open.

Friday 21 August 2009

Have you not known? Have you not heard?

bible on outward facing reading deskI took this photograph inside Holy Trinity Parish Church at Ashford in the Water, in the Peak District. Two-thirds of the way around a delightful circular walk, Sue and I stopped to eat our sandwiches and then popped in to look around the church. I noticed something quite surprising; the lectern was facing outwards so that a casual visitor like me would see the open pages of the Bible and perhaps read some of the text. Now in my experience such bits of Anglican church furniture are usually large, bronze and clad with an impressive eagle; almost always they face down the nave towards the door. This simple wooden lectern is quite different. It is as though it has been intentionally turned round to face those who enter the church.

And to those who do, the Bible is open at Isaiah chapters 40 and 41. Looking at the text, two passages in particular grabbed my attention. In chapter 40:21 and again in verse 28 the questions “Have you not known? Have you not heard” are striking. They are not phrased in an accusing manner, rather the sense here is one of deep regret that God’s promises have gone unheard by those who most need them. I say this because of the great promises and truths which then follow on in 40:31 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” and 41:9 ‘You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off ’; do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God

Turning this gospel outward so that it is world facing and engaged is what God expects the church to do as naturally as you and I breathe, so essential is it to our life of faith as Christians. This is why ‘Reshaping for Mission’ is such a vital task for the Methodist Church.

The evidence of our eyes and memories tells us that the church we serve has for a long time been like a lectern upon which sits a closed Bible. As it faces the door the gospel of God’s radical love in Jesus is only apparent to those who know where to look and what to read. The outward-facing lectern and the open Bible challenge us to be more acutely aware of the ways in which we can put ourselves in the place of the stranger, for it is with the stranger that Jesus stands. The hopeful promises of the gospel are not a closed book, they are meant to be seen and experienced ‘in plain view’ at the heart of our communities. All across Lincolnshire we are rising to this challenge with renewed faith and ever deeper trust in God, for the sake of those who ‘have not known’ and ‘have not heard’. What better way to start a new Methodist year?

isaiah 40 41 in open bible

Thursday 20 August 2009

will a once-fashionable source of renewable energy come back in vogue?

derelict waterwheel at disused watermillinterior detail of derelict waterwheel at disused watermill 

detail of derelict waterwheel at disused watermill  second derelict waterwheel at disused watermil 2l

inside of derelict waterwheel at disused watermill

This sorry sight is a long derelict water-powered grinding mill on the bank of the river Wye in Derbyshire, just outside the pretty village of Ashford in the Water. It appears that is was originally used for crushing bone, although in later years it may have become a bobbin mill. ‘Progress’ meant that this carbon neutral watermill, powered by renewable energy, was superceded by industrial-scale processes based on carbon intensive sources of energy. With what we now know about climate change it’s enough to make you weep that such small-scale and local uses of ‘renewables’ such as water and wind were so easily cast aside.

So, we have learned the error of our ways and realise that we can no longer afford to ignore energy which is renewable and carbon-free. The consequences of our technological arrogance seems to be driving us full circle to rediscover solutions from the past.

Naturally enough as I looked at all of this dereliction I could not help reflecting upon the parallel decline of Christianity in Europe. Churches, like watermills, were superceded by other more modern ways of empowering our quest to be human. So for me the great sadness is that so many people ignore a freely available and entirely renewable and completely renewing source of power. The reality of God could empower so much in our time in a way that our secular addictions to money, success, sex and celebrity never will. In many ways these are as toxic as our addiction to carbon.


disused and derelict watermill

I think that the challenge to the churches is to once more prove the worth of small-scale, local reliance on the renewable and reliable power of God’s love. We need to demonstrate that faith works. If we don’t or we won’t, the future looks bleak. We simply can’t afford to leave God’s power untapped and unchannelled when the needs around us are so great. Solutions from the past are staring us in the face every time we read the gospels. The old discarded spiritual technologies of faith, prayer and discipleship may yet be rediscovered by generations who long ago abandoned them, and be found for the first time by those for whom they will be a revelation. ‘Living water’ is all around us, we just have to take it, use it and share it as God intends.

we are so completely and naturally immersed in God

trout swiming in the clear water of the river wye in Miller's Dale Derbyshire

river wye at miller's dale in derbyshire copy This beautiful trout was swimming in the clear waters of the river Wye in Miller’s Dale, Derbyshire.  I spent a few delightful minutes simply enjoying the sight of  this fantastic fish holding position in the free-flowing current, before suddenly darting forward and circling back, a manoeuvre it repeated several times.

As I watched I became aware of a calm assurance that this is how it is for us, by which I mean that even though many of us are seldom mindful of it, we are at all times so completely and naturally immersed in God. I just loved this moment of insight which was imbued with such a peaceful sense presence, and wanted to share it with you.

Surely this is the literally transparent truth which St Paul was describing when he spoke of us living and moving and having our being in God.  Much more than a beautiful thought, this is nothing less than an eternal truth.

badly damaged yet still turned to the light: a leaf-like theodicy?

 underside of large leaf attacked by snails copy

leaf attacked by snails copy

Walking along the Monsal Trail in Derbyshire a few days ago I came across a plant whose large leaves were in the process of being devoured. It looked like the main culprits were voracious snails, which were attacking from both sides of the leaf. Slowly but surely the capacity of the plant to photosynthesize sugars from sunlight, CO2 and water is being diminished. Yet its leaves still turn to the light and, for the time being at least, their chlorophyll continues to work its biochemical magic. Deep down, below ground and well out of sight, the plant will be storing food. It will depend on this to  carry it through the bleak and dormant winter months to the point at which it will experience Spring for itself. Then it will turn this stored energy into new growth which will push upwards through the soil and into the sunlight once more.large leaf attacked by snails copy Nature never fails to amaze me.

Reflecting on my own personal experience and on those I have met during many years of pastoral ministry it is clear to me that this is a pattern which has its spiritual corollary. To be a damaged person, someone who knows what it is like to be diminished and hurt significantly by others, by life events, or to bear the scars of self-inflicted and avoidable distress, is to some degree an inevitable part of being human. To recognise that such things need not be our governing truth, define who we are now or in the future, or turn us forever away from God, is a precious step to take.

There are those who never take it. In the face of hardship and suffering there will always be those unfortunate souls who store up only bitterness and resentment. As such their damage goes deep below the surface and Spring seems impossibly far off. And to some of them, God - like the snails -  is clearly to blame.

To be able to speak of a loving God in a world such as this is the enduring task of Theodicy. The plant I saw at the side of the path, with its damage in plain view, yet with its leaves still fully open to the light and with another truth of springtime hope for the future deep down out of sight, was like a calling-card from God. A reminder that superficial appearances are not the whole story, that damage need not be the final word, and that love can still work its marvellous spiritual alchemy, even when all seems at a loss.

When one meets people like this for whom faith is undiminished by the vicissitudes of life, looking upwards as it were from the underside of their hurt and suffering, it is sometimes possible to glimpse within them a similar radiance to that which shines through the leaf in the first photograph. And if we look closely, we can see that same radiance in the pages of the Bible too. Life can be hard and always has been, even for those of us who are pampered in the developed world, let alone for the global poor and dispossessed. It is this world of which the scriptures speak, not some fantasy world in which there is no pain or death. It is precisely in this damaged world that faith must make sense. It is in the here and now of this world’s pain and distress that the light of love yearns to work its spiritual miracle.

Wednesday 12 August 2009

A Handmade Faith

a handmade faith

Following on from the last post about the need for a Hands-On Faith here is a complementary image. When I came across this display case in a shop I took a quick grab shot because I really liked both its ingenuity and message. I recognised a theological and spiritual truth which I wanted to capture: personal faith in God is something which has value because it has to be handmade. It is a unique act of continuing creativity and love. Also in this shot, if you look carefully up into the top left hand corner of the frame, there is a great piece of artistic vision which translates well to the life of Faith and the promises of the Gospel:

“Jewellery and Accessories lovingly created from vintage, recycled and thrifted items inspired by the romantic idea of old objects finding new stories.”

A Hands-On Faith?

jowett ed6511 number plate and starting handle copy

The top picture shows the starting handle on a 1913 Jowett car.  Some 95 years on its equivalent on my 2008 Mini is shown below. This is about as different as different gets. One method of starting the engine requires brute force and physically cranking it into life, the other relies on electronics and a highly complex engine management computer and the merest push on a button to get ignition. One is all about comfort, convenience and effortless reliability, the other is hands-on, hands-dirty and take nothing for granted. And it is the question of which one better represents my approach to faith which troubles me.

When I learned to drive cars could still be serviced at home if you had the tools and the practical ability to do it. There were routine jobs such as spark plugs to clean and gap, points to set, the carburettor to clean and the ignition timing to check and retard or advance as needs be, if running was rough. The battery needed topping up with distilled water. Nowadays the key fob on the Mini downloads to the technicians computer at the garage a whole host of data about the vehicle and a dashboard display tells me when the car will need to be serviced. Everything is computerised. The trial and error days of ear and eye seem to be long gone.

I am detached and deskilled in a way that was simply not true thirty years ago. The hands-on element to so much in life has diminished to the degree that we just don’t expect to get our hands dirty any more. We don’t even need to know how things work. ‘No user serviceable parts’ is a familiar warning on many bits of household electrical and electronic kit. And if that is the way that faith-expectation is going I think we are in trouble. The gospel is hands-on, making an effort, uncomfortable and demanding of us. ‘Sitting comfortably and pressing a button’ as an approach to faith is spiritual anathema as far as my reading of the Bible is concerned. In this respect the 1913 Jowett is far closer to the reality of how faith is to be lived and experienced. Nothing except the unconditional love of God is to be taken for granted. Everything else requires constant attention and fettling and a real hands-on approach. Soul work is dirty work. Transforming an unjust world requires real effort and commitment. It just isn’t going to happen at the push of a button. It takes blood, sweat and tears.

Jesus was hands-on. Why should it be any different for us?

mini stop start ignition

Wednesday 5 August 2009

Howarth Wall of Art 2009

2009 wall of art entries at howarth outside black bull pub copy

howarth wall of art poster

Visiting Howarth on the same weekend as the classic car rally at Hebden Bridge, I chanced upon their annual ‘Wall of Art’ Project  and was really impressed with the creativity on display outside the Black Bull Inn. As the printed description says,  this is something for the whole village, a single project which unites them around a common task.

The interpretations of the theme ‘Howarth, past and present’ are about as varied as could be. Each painting is a unique expression of how that person’s creative imagination engaged with the theme, and there is much humour, tangential thinking and deeply perceptive seeing in evidence. This display was a heart-warming and most unexpected gift in the middle of a rainy day.  I particularly liked the painting of the Bronte Sisters with a white iPod, especially having a few minutes earlier seen a reproduction of the original group portrait hanging in the Bronte Parsonage Museum. The abstract take on Haworth from a geological and evolutionary perspective on the past was equally striking.

What all of this art did was to lift my spirits: being in the presence of such communal creativity seemed to intimate something especially precious about our humanity.  At the time I was reading Pete Ward’s latest book ‘Participation and howarth past and present paintingsMediation’. His view of contemporary youth culture is  that we can legitimately see ‘symbolic creativity’ as a holy activity of meaning-making. In this light the ‘Wall of Art’ is indeed about the making of meaning around a common theme, and as such I want to argue that the huge display is inherently sacred.

If as the Bible contends we believe that God is creative, and that divine creativity is always and everywhere at work through the presence of the Holy Spirit, our imaginations have real sacred significance. Imagination is the starting point for meaning-making and the creative shaping of our lives for the good. As such, as individuals in community with one another, we are all unfolding and unfinished works of art, each of which expresses something of divine meaning-making in action. Following this line of thought leads me to think that if we are open to the divine imagination and loving intention which God has for us, we will find our imaginations suffused and inspired with holy creativity. Surely it is the most natural thing in the world for God to engage with our inherent creativity in this way? When the two come together the result should reflect the meaning-making we see in Jesus. The previous post tried to mirror this truth through attention to the creative process of seeing reflectively.

As the residents of Howarth celebrate their collective creativity is it possible for us to see that this has a holy dimension? Can we read the Christian belief that we are ‘made in the image of God’  in a way that allows us to assert that the magnificent creativity of the ‘Wall of Art’ discloses to us an essential characteristic of both divine and human identity? 

howarth past and present painting bronte sisters with ipodI think we can. These paintings are not religious in the accepted sense of the word, but I am minded to think that what I saw on the huge display boards is truly iconic in the sacred sense.

In paint, line, shape and colour there lurks a sacramental truth about the past and present nature of our relationship with God, and God’s creative loving relationship with the whole of life. Here in Howarth this cultural expression of identity is an exercise in meaning-making for the whole community. The wall of the Black Bull Inn becomes the place where theology and culture meet.

The theological task and challenge would be to unpack this in ways that ‘make spiritual meaning’ for the residents of Howarth.

Where, how and why might the meaning of God  be discovered through the ‘Wall of Art’?   

 howarth past and present painting 1

mirroring and reflecting the alternative reality of God

rear view side mirror on classic mg sportscar

A vintage and classic car rally might seem an odd place to be doing theology. If like me you expect what you see to engage creatively with what you believe,  you would naturally expect God to  be at work within your own creative imagination in such a context, provoking lines of thought and contemplation and exciting your curiosity. I guess that’s the basic premise behind this blog.

So when Sue, Judy and I decided to pop down the road from our caravan and look round the Hebden Bridge Vintage Cars Weekend I took my camera bag along with a view to enjoying some fresh theological reflection whilst indulging my ‘PetrolHead’ tendencies at the same time. I was not disappointed. owner of classic new york taxi unaware of stars and stripes reflected in door mirror copyThis fantastic event was a feast of delights for anyone interested in automotive history and the evolution of design. Parallels with the church were sparking off every few yards or so! As far as this post goes though, I realised that I was taking a lot of close-up shots featuring mirrors and reflections. Looking at my photos on the laptop afterwards I was hard pushed to find many, if any, standard three-quarter front views of the cars. The drivers door mirror on the classic red MG sports car you see here is reasonably typical of the stuff I was taking.

Thinking about this both at the time and subsequently I think that what I was trying to do was look for the unusual, unexpected and reflection in boot of of classic london black cabeasily overlooked views; the bits of visual information which it is very easy to lose and not register consciously. And I think I wanted to do this because I have the strongest sense that God is always trying to get our attention, but that we are often so preoccupied with how things are for us we just don’t see what is before our eyes, or what would be visible if we changed our viewpoint or paid more careful attention.  The reflection of the ‘Stars and Stripes’ in the door mirror of the classic New York Taxi cab is an example of what I mean. Out on the open road the mirrors on the MG and the Yellow Taxi convey a constant stream of information to the driver, as and when the driver chooses to look in it. Their safety and that of other road users depends on them being aware of more than that which is photographer's reflection in the back of a classic car mirror copydirectly in front of them. Which is why after 60 years of design evolution and innovation, my modern Mini has mirrors in just about the same place as on the MG, even though so much else is different. And looking at the rear of the classic black London Taxi built by Austin it took a few moments for me to see beyond the license plates to the reflection of what was behind me.  Likewise, looking through the viewfinder at the front of another classic vehicle I spotted my own reflection in the back of one of its wing mirrors. There is always more to see than first meets the eye.

So perhaps there is a real spiritual object lesson here, one which the second letter to the Christians in Corinth alludes to. “And all reflections in headlamp and bodywork of classic mg sportscarof us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.  ( 2 Corinthians 3.18)  Surely we should expect to see the alternative reality of God mirrored all around us in a way that, having seen it, we are transformed by it. All of the ‘surfaces’ of life – our relationships, encounters and experiences as well as the world around us -  are capable of reflecting the glory of God’s presence and purpose to us. In each and all of these I believe that God reaches out to be transformatively in touch with us.

These many and various reflective surfaces classic citroen rear number plate and lightsshow us things which otherwise we would miss. Looked at like this our spiritual practices of prayer and contemplation broaden out to encompass the whole of our experience. If as the letter to the Hebrews says, Jesus is “the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being” (Hebrews 1.3), we can expect to encounter that reflection anywhere and everywhere. We just need to look beyond and within the first appearance of things to what is reflected. And when we do, a whole new world opens up. If we can but see it, God’s alternative reality in Jesus is staring us in the face.