I’m a Guardian reader, not all the time and not in a snooty way. It’s got the best sports coverage and a crossword I like. I first got into it when I worked at my Dad’s textile mill in Batley. I’d run down to the newsagent to pick it up at break time (10am) in my ripped-to-shreds overalls, covered in oil and dust. You get some funny looks buying the Guardian in industrial Batley, especially when you looked like I did.
I used to quite I enjoy my journey back to work with my head in the sports pages as I walked, occasionally reading other bits too. It felt like the only time of the day I got my head above the clouds and saw a little bit of the rest of the world and not just the world around me. It’s amazing the kind of change that makes to rest of your day.
It’s possible to grow up in small town West Yorkshire and be a croquet loving Tory who likes the arts and sings opera but it’s not likely, it goes a little bit against the grain. There’s a strong current of social pressure directing you in other ways, local rugby league shirts are everywhere and depending on what decade you or your parents were born in; Leeds, Man United or Liverpool scarfs will have been put round your neck too. Access to croquet facilities is limited. Your political allegiances are similarly directed, there are no scarfs or shirts put on you but our politics and life philosophies are entrenched in our culture and soak into our skin like we’re sponges dropped into a bath.
We grow up in very privileged times with tremendous liberties and hard earned freedoms. We are like never before ‘individuals’ with opportunities to live, think and explore the world for ourselves. But even with all this great progress, even with all the individuality we have, all the knowledge at our fingertips, perhaps even because of it,
it’s very hard to own an original thought, hard to step out of the flow of thinking that goes on around us.
When thinking about this kind of stuff the philosopher Thomas Nagel said that ‘every view on the world is a view from somewhere… we cannot escape the condition of seeing the world from our insertion in it.’
We are all, to some extent, social constructs, all sponges dropped in the bath. So when it comes to thinking about our faith, what we think about God, whether or not there is a God, whether something is moral or not, how seriously we practice the faith that we profess and what that means for us, we do this, we work this stuff out, soaked in, and carried along by the environment we exist in.
When thinking about this stuff, it’s important to get our heads above the clouds, to pull ourselves out of the flow of traffic.
In our new series, A Place in the Son, we’re looking at Pauls’ letter to the church at Colossae. This little gathering of Christians was a miracle in itself, not unlike our own story, a seed of faith that grows up in an unlikely environment. Living in the shadow of the mighty Roman Empire, with its ideology thrust upon it this little church was vulnerable to being dragged anywhere, to believing anything. It will be so important for them to put their head above the clouds.
So Paul writes them a letter, it’s not like any letter I’ve ever written or read before. It’s not small talk and weather reports. It’s not sports and crosswords. It’s a caution about the desperate need for people of faith to think independently about the universe around them, to view it differently, because it is different. It’s a reminder to them of the world with God in it and how we see this in Jesus. That the Jesus story isn’t an incidental extra to a caring religious movement new to Colossae, but the Jesus story is the fundamental story of the whole universe, everything finds its origin an ultimate end in him. To have found him is not to have discovered a new coping strategy for the stresses of life or even a nice friendly group of people to hang out with on Sunday, but to have found the creator and sustainer of the world. This is not news that causes an eyebrow raise and then is forgotten but news that reshapes your soul and sends shivers down your spine.
Paul sears their hearts with this beautiful picture of Jesus because when you live in the empires of the day people lose sight of this, we lose sight of this. Paul gives an old city a new view.
Somebody in Colossae would be picking this up and mulling it over through their break time, in the middle of a working week, lost within the philosophies of the day, wrapped up in their little world. They got a view of something bigger.
C.S Lewis described the journey of faith in a book he wrote called The Pilgrim’s Regress. In it the central character journeys to a mysterious island and returns home having encountered the object of his desire (the island). The journey to the island and back home cover the same ground but the return journey (though the same) appears different because the object of the characters desire has changed how he sees himself and the world around him. Because when you truly meet God, the landscape around you changes.
The church at Colossae needed to know this, to see this, so do we.
Ash Gibson, Assistant Pastor, Christchurch Xscape