Nils von Kalm

My take on faith, life and how it all might fit together

Category: Faith (page 1 of 11)

Does it really matter what we believe?

Why do so many Christians care about alleviating poverty and working for justice in the world? Put simply, what is their theology, and does it really matter?

Theology in itself is the study of God and of God’s relationship to everything else in existence. For some people theology conjures up images of people in ivory towers poring over books and doctrine and other things that don’t seem anywhere near related to the realities of life on the ground. But it is crucial that we have our theology right. It matters what we believe.

Much of the theology we hear in our churches is basically individualistic, Western, and focuses ultimately on saving souls and getting people into heaven. Within this worldview, the alleviation of poverty and working for justice are seen as good things to do, but they are not as important as saving souls, because people’s eternal destiny is what really matters in the end. The other stuff is just temporary.

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What is truth in a postmodern culture?

How we grow

Excerpt from Running Up the White Flag

placeit-2Sight Magazine has published an excerpt from my ebook, Running Up the White Flag.

Click here to read the article and here to buy the book on Amazon. I’d love you to leave an honest review on Amazon as well.

The 7th-Century Saint Who Can Help You Discover Your Gifts

This today from Sheridan Voysey. We all need someone who believes in us:

This 7th-Century Saint Can Help You Discover Your Gifts

Saint Hilda was a woman ahead of her time. A profound teacher, patron of the arts and spiritual guide to both peasant and king, the story I love most about her is her interaction with a farmhand named Caedmon. As Hilda helps Caedmon test his unexpected calling, we too can learn how to discover our God-given dreams and gifts.

If 85% of the world is religious, why are secular countries happier?

030815-M-2375M-502If 85% of the world’s population has a religious underpinning to their lives, why are secular countries happier, according to the latest studies?

Dutch philosopher, Evert-Jan Ouweneel says that these countries are generally happier as long as circumstances are going well. Resilience though is lessening.

Ouweneel also says that the world is becoming more religious, not less. 85% of the world’s population has a religious faith. If we want to promote human understanding, cooperation and relationships, we need to understand religion and how it underpins the lives of most people in the world.

Finally, Ouweneel faces the common criticism of faith-based organisations working to alleviate poverty, that they give food from one hand as long it’s with a Bible in the other. There are a lot of myths going around about this, and they are well dealt with in this fascinating interview on ABC Radio National.

Listen to the interview here.

Life is a choice

german-shepherds-watching-catLife is a choice.

We find that this is true especially when we struggle. It is through struggle that character can grow. In fact I would say that it is only in struggle that character can grow. We can choose to rise above our troubles or decide to be overcome by them. Rising above them doesn’t mean ignoring them and pushing them asunder. It means moving forward regardless of the storms of life that are swirling all around us.

One of my great heroes, and probably the most courageous person I have ever known of (apart from Jesus, who chose to go to the cross knowing full well what it would cost) is Martin Luther King. Check out this quote from King from his sermon, Antidotes for fear (Don’t worry about the gender-specific language. It was written in the language of the day. Of course this quote applies equally to women as to men):

“Courage faces fear and thereby masters it. Cowardice represses fear and is thereby mastered by it. Courageous men never lose the zest for living even through their life situation is zestless; cowardly men, overwhelmed by the uncertainties of life, lose the will to live. We must constantly build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear.”

Often when trouble strikes, we can feel overwhelmed, even paralysed, by fear. It has certainly happened to me. What I have found is that it is through the growing understanding that we are always ok in God’s sight, and slowly coming to the realisation that we can no longer deny God’s unconditional love for us, that we gain the courage to face whatever is in front of us. This can take years, and in reality, is never fully completed until the day we pass from this earth.

Courage is not the absence of fear though; it is admitting that you might be scared sh*tless but moving forward anyway. That’s where it is a choice. There is nothing wrong with being scared; it is when we allow our fears to overcome us that we never deal with the challenges we are facing.

One of the many examples of Dr King’s courage in the face of adversity is captured in this quote from a sermon he wrote while in jail for civil disobedience:

“Throw us in jail and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory.”

This is what love does, love born of the courage to face fear, look it full in the face and say, like Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings, “you shall not pass!”.

Life is a choice. God give me the courage to face it on its terms.

Why I’ve had enough of being spiritual

Firefighters rescue stranded motoristsFirst glance at a heading like this might cause some confusion. “But isn’t God spirit? Jesus himself says so, so what’s the problem with any attempt at being spiritual?”

Jesus did indeed say that God is spirit, in his incredible conversation with the woman at the well in John 4. And because Jesus said it, we can regard it as true. But do we find it kind of ironic as well that it is Jesus – God with skin on – who says that God is spirit?

If we want to know what God is like, as Richard Rohr says, we can just look at Jesus. If Jesus is our image of God, then Jesus is what God looks like. And Jesus was a fully embodied human being, just like the rest of us.

Most of our spiritualising of our Christian faith actually harks back to Greek thinking rather than what the biblical story is actually bringing across. And what Jesus meant when he said that God is spirit was not what we think it means. He was speaking into a specific situation and context with the woman at the well.

Most of you will have probably heard the story of the man who drowned in a flood and went to heaven. The story goes like this: Continue reading

Apparently there’s a new album out

U2_360_at_Cowboys_StadiumLast Wednesday was a good day for me. In fact it was a Beautiful Day. You might even say it was Magnificent. Do you see where I’m going with this? Yes, The Miracle has occurred. After years of speculation, the latest U2 album is finally here. And, just like that other miracle in Luke 9:10-17, so far, over 200 thousand iTunes users have downloaded and had their fill.

But can you ever get your fill of a U2 album? I have listened to this one a few times already and while I’m preferring some songs over others, those lesser ones are growing on me. You could say a U2 song is like pizza, chocolate or sex: when it’s good it’s really good, and when it’s bad it’s still pretty good!

After a few listens, this album has definitely been worth the wait. The first six songs have the potential to become classics, some of them even anthems. I can just picture them ringing out around massive stadiums around the world (although they would have to be pretty special to beat the sheer spine-tingling electricity of Where the Streets Have No Name being performed live).

On first listen, my initial thought about this album was that it is less Christian than previous ones. But what is Christian? Is it about how many overt biblical references you can count in the lyrics, or is it more about how faith is actually embedded in them? As Greg Clarke says in his eloquent and insightful review of this album, U2 are very good at naturalising their Christianity. It has been a natural part of who they are for so many years that it doesn’t necessarily have to be overt. It just comes out in the stories of life that exude out of these songs. Out of the heart the mouth speaks.

Songs of Innocence is an album that expresses the angst, insecurity and inspiration of youth. It is a tribute to the band’s early years, written with appropriate fondness and richness. The fondness includes tributes to the influences that made the band, and Bono in particular, what they are today. These are songs of influence on four young men, just ordinary guys, who were shaped by the many and complicated facets of faith, religion and politics of Northern Ireland.

When I review albums, I tend to focus on the lyrics to find a connection to relate to. That’s where it’s always been easy reviewing a U2 album. For millions of fans, the uniqueness of this great band lies in the depth of connection one feels, particularly with Bono. You sort of feel like you know him as he opens up about faith, hope, love, sex, fear, and the myriad other ecstasies and agonies of life. No wonder he lamented, back in 1989, the hero-worship that takes place when we turn admiration into obsession, in the brilliant Love Rescue Me, “many strangers have I met on the road to my regret; many lost who seek to find themselves in me. They ask me to reveal the very thoughts they would conceal. Love rescue me.”

Healthy connection though is what U2 have always been about – connection both with their audience and with the life-long search for reality in this roughly three-score-years-and-ten that we’re all supposed to get in our time on this planet.

It is more than the lyrics though that make up U2’s greatness. Their poetic eloquence are complemented by the passionate energy of the music itself, fuelled by a spiritual anger that arises out of the heart of these four Irishmen who have have seen their fair share of troubles in their homeland. The music and lyrics, combined with the yearning, passionate spiritual rage, make this band a consistent standout in a world of increasingly manufactured, bland and, quite frankly, often boring, pop.

For me, the standout songs are Every Breaking Wave (“Every shipwrecked soul knows what it is to live without intimacy” – spot on) and Iris (Hold Me Close), the latter a beautiful, heart-wrenching tribute to Bono’s mother who died so tragically when he was just 14. Written from the maturity and life experience of 40 years hence, it is a touching tribute to a woman who clearly had a major influence on his life, and someone whom he still misses dearly.

It is the ache of loss that comes through quite powerfully on this album. More than once, Bono refers to his own pain and grief that not even being a rock superstar can take away. Here are a few examples:

“The ache In my heart Is so much a part of who I am” – Iris (Hold Me Close)

“There’s no end to grief?That’s how I know?That’s how I know?And why I need to know that there is no end to love?All I know and all I need to know is there is no end to love”

California (There is No End to Love)

“A heart that is broken is a heart that is open” – Cedarwood Road

“We got language so we can’t communicate?Religion so I can love and hate?Music so I can exaggerate my pain, and give it a name”

– The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)

These examples are another attraction of U2, and of this album in particular. The raw honesty is the conduit that makes the connection between band and listener so strong and so intimate.

These songs of innocence are in fact songs of meaning. They are personal to the core; they are honest and they are vulnerable. They are typical, classic U2, in lyric, in sound and in impact on this fan of 30 years’ standing. It was worth the wait.

Figuring out my midlife crisis

3707187124_546942ec87_zI turned 45 this year, so I guess it’s about time I had a midlife crisis. Mine has been partly self-inflicted and partly forced upon me. I suppose that’s they way they happen though. No one really chooses to go through a crisis of identity.

And identity is what crises of these types are all about. Having a couple of major traumas in my life in the last 12 months has led me to look at just where my identity has lain. It turns out that, to a large extent, I have been building my house on sand as well as on the rock of the love and security of God.

That is not to criticise where my heart has been (for the most part) in the years leading up to these traumas. It’s more that God has been calling me to a deeper level of commitment. As they say, be careful what you pray for, because there’s a good chance it will be answered! And, thankfully, God is not “nice” as we Western Christians often are when we try to deal with things. This is no Sunday School “gentle Jesus, meek and mild, tiptoeing through the meadows.” This is a God who takes the bull by its horns.

If you surrender yourself to this God, you can guarantee that surgery will be performed on your soul. And there are no anaesthetics when God is at the operating table. That doesn’t mean that God is mean; quite the contrary. This is surgery that gets to the root causes and cuts out the cancer for it never to return. This is love at its best, polishing the rough edges of the diamond so it resembles the exquisite beauty that the Master Surgeon originally intended for it. Continue reading

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