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andrew rumsey
strangely warmed
By Andrew Rumsey
More strange warmings here
Big enough for the both of us
February 2003

Shipmates of a certain age may recall a strip in the Tiger comic (a UK publication) called "Billy's Boots". In essence this featured a boy – Billy – who one day found a pair of old football boots belonging to long-departed football ace, "Dead Shot" Keen. Putting them on, he found that, magically, he was able to play just like his baggy-shorted hero.

Each week there was a new story of how Billy's Boots had led his team to victory. It was naturally all very appealing for one such as me who – on the football pitch at least – was less "Dead Shot" Keen than "Dead Loss" Rumsey.

And yet, thrilling as it was, I was always left with the uneasy sense that Billy was a bit of a fraud and must have wondered who he really was and what he could achieve – emotional subtleties which the Tiger clearly didn't feel it was necessary to address.

A similar concern surfaced when, as a teenager, I would hear enthusiastic youth evangelists explaining how Christ must take charge of my life – be Lord of everything. Fears of becoming a radio-controlled Christian put me off Praying The Prayer for years.

Perhaps men are especially prone to this reluctance to be taken over by God – of losing ourselves. It's basically an extension of what one might call the "potting shed syndrome" – that need to retreat to some space we call our own. As the Lord stands at the door and knocks, one can readily understand the widespread fear that inviting Him across the threshold will soon find us cowering furtively in the broom cupboard.

If this rings a bell (steady now) it may be worth recognising that many of these fears are based upon notions of space which simply do not relate to life with God. Basically, it's all Aristotle's fault. Aristotle, a pupil of Plato's, profoundly influenced the development of Christian theology in medieval times, especially when it came to understanding the presence of Christ in his Body, the church.

In Aristotle's scheme of things, the space for something or someone was always defined by that which contained it – the bucket for the water, the potting shed for the husband, and so on. Nothing could be truly present without being limited or encompassed in some way.

While this theory made good sense in some areas of life, it was riddled with problems in plenty of others: you only have to glance at a map of Africa to see the chaos Western notions of border and boundary have caused.

It is clear to my mind that Aristotle had a nasty experience with house guests, perhaps making themselves rather too much at home when he was trying to philosophise. If you fancy further exploring the influence of his thought, try and source a copy of T.F. Torrance's pint-sized classic Space, Time and Incarnation, which should be read by all those fascinated by Christ but worried that faith must inevitably mean more of him, less of me. It ain't necessarily so.

The Kingdom of God – in the world, or in the heart of the believer – is not an empire. His territory does not increase at the expense of our own. His presence is personal and relational, not spatial. This is a truth at the heart of the Christian understanding of God as Trinity, which Vicars always tie themselves in knots trying to explain by way of shamrocks, tripods and the like (the most impersonal I have heard of involved guttering and drainpipes, but I can't quite recall how).

For the Holy Spirit to "take control" in one's life will almost turn the world upside down, but this is a process of discovery: of finding ourselves in relation to God, not the opposite. In fact, to be lost in the Christian sense is to be without the creator's presence.

Being a stranger to the pitch, I hesitate to suggest the difference this makes to one's goal average. But, unlike Billy, at least you can live with yourself.
strangely warmed
Strangely Warmed by Andrew Rumsey is now available as a book.
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