Friday, 1 January 2010

God as background noise

As we start this new year, I wish you all a Happy New Year. It is time to start as I intend to go on. Yes, I thought I would start the year with a reflective blog. It is becoming something of a regular activity and as I look at my list of possible topics, I see I am nowhere near exhausting the topics.

It is easy to talk about New Year resolutions and Marilyn reminded me this morning of how most are just good intentions. However, as I start this year, I want to focus on God and the role that we allow Him to play in our lives or more specifically whether we recognise his presence around us and with us.

At the beginning of December, I attended a symposium on variation theory and learning studies in Hong Kong. Ference Marton, one of the organisers, is in the process of writing a new book and in a draft chapter that we got to read, he uses an example of people who live close to a power station that generates a low but consistent sound. The residents have never lived without that sound so never recognise its presence. It isn't until the sound is removed that the residents become aware of its existence even though visitors recognise it and comment on it. For the residents, it is just a consistent background noise, the context in which they live.

As I reflected on this story, I recognised how easy it is to treat God like background noise. He is constantly there but we fail to recognise His presence. As long as everything is running smoothly and there are no problems, it is easy to ignore His constant hand guiding and protecting us. It isn't until something happens that introduces a difference in our experience that we become aware of His existence and presence. When these hiccups to our safe and secure life occurs then we can either turn and seek His guidance or we can turn our backs on Him and try to resolve our own problems.

2009 was a year of trial for us and our family. Our shift to the UK wasn't without problems and the economic environment didn't help the job hunting for ourselves and for others around us. There were also health and other struggles through the year. As I write this, things are looking more positive. But more significantly, I am seeing increased signs of faith in God coming from the struggles. For myself, there is a greater sense of peace and knowledge of God's presence surrounding us as we look to the uncertainties of 2010.

The shake up during 2008/2009 as I completed the PhD and looked at what to do next has forced us to rethink our values especially as the security blanket of permanent jobs and home ownership have been removed. Now both Marilyn and I are on short term contracts. Both are lower on the pay scale to what we are used to. It feels like we are starting to build our careers all over again. We could get angry and say that God has misled us but rather we see God's hand at work more so now than when we had those secure jobs and our home. In the uncertainty, He is getting more opportunity to shape our character and direct us to those things that He desires us to do.

Variation theory talks of discerning differences as the way to build conceptual change. The differences that have occurred over the last 12 months have forced us to look again at our relationship with each other and with God. We have uncovered new ideas and understandings. We have changed as people and in our relationship to the world around us.

As I think of how others might come to be aware of God in new ways, I recognise that it is difficult if there is nothing that challenges their perceptions so that they become aware of His constant presence. Trials and difficulties are often when this occurs but not always. In part this is because they seem like times when He has moved away from us even when in reality, He may have been carrying us.

When it comes to this New Year, I don't want to hear of your good intentions or New Year's resolutions. I want to know how you will relate to God and how you will make His presence more visible in your life rather than leaving Him as background noise which you acknowledge from time to time.

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