3 min read

Discover the seen and unseen

What does it all look like in the light? Graham Tomlin sets out the vision for Seen & Unseen.

Graham is the Director of the Centre for Cultural Witness and a former Bishop of Kensington.

Meter telescope scanning the night sky
The IRAM 30-meter telescope under the night sky.
IRAM-gre, via Wikimedia Commons

As someone once said, everyone has an angle, so it's a fair enough question to ask what our angle is. 

In 325 AD a conference of bishops, many of whom carried in their bodies the scars of persecution, met in a small town called Nicaea in what is now northern Turkey. They slowly hammered out a visionary statement that described what the early Christians believed - a whole new way of looking at the world based around the belief that God the Creator had entered the world in the person of a Jewish teacher, Jesus of Nazareth.

That document, commonly known as the Nicene Creed, is the one Creed that is accepted and used across the entire Christian Church, so it’s good enough for us.

Our conviction, however, is that this framework, rather than closing down thinking, opens up a much more expansive and energising space for thought and acting than secular visions can offer.  

For example, the Nicene Creed also describes God as the maker of all things, 'seen and unseen', picking up a phrase St Paul had written three hundred years before. We thought that summed up pretty well what we're about - we're interested in the Seen - what we all know and talk about all the time - economics, politics, society, law, the arts, the planet and its future - but also the Unseen realities that make sense of the seen - the mysterious, the numinous, the reality of the spiritual realm, the kingdom of heaven. 

This Christian framework is not one that can be simply tacked onto a secular mindset but is a different way of viewing the world. Therefore, our aim is not to debate with those who don't share our faith as to who can prove their case, but to do our best to describe the world as Christians (of many kinds and perspectives) see it. Our task on this website is not to answer simplistic questions with simplistic answers, but to ask ourselves and others: what do politics, economics, the arts, technology, biology, leisure, geography, housing - in other words everything - look like in the light of the coming of Jesus into the world. And if we can do that well, we can be both a window and mirror to the societies we live in. 

We believe there is wisdom in the two thousand years of Christian reflection on what it means to be human, and what it means to be good - on God, nature, community, work, and everything else - wisdom that has been discarded too quickly in western societies. We also think that the rapid discarding of Christian faith, and the failure to replace it with any kind of convincing common story is a disaster for our culture, leaving it open to fragmentation and culture warfare. Not that we’re advocating a return to Christendom - the Church made too many mistakes for misty-eyed nostalgia about that. But we do think Christian faith has the intellectual and spiritual depth to help renew and revive cultures today. Whether it does or not is beyond our pay-grade. Our job is just to tell the story as best we can.  

Christians think a great deal about their faith and the cultures in which they live. Yet much of that wisdom is locked up inside long books that few people read. We want to make that wisdom accessible to a much wider audience. So, what you'll find here is material that is thoughtful, accessible to non-specialists, the fruit of deep thinking both about the Christian tradition and contemporary life, and can help you not only think more clearly, but live a better life.   

We may critique ideas, but will try not to attack people. We want to be generous, curious, confident about the faith, open to criticism and new ideas, intelligent, accessible, and patient. We don't want to be competitive, aggressive, reactive, fearful, or closed-minded.  

Read our articles. Listen to our podcasts. Expand your thinking. Feed and satisfy your curiosity. Discover a world that is greater, more full of meaning and sense than you ever imagined.   

4 min read

What would you do with one day more?

A leap year creates opportunities.

Jamie is Associate Minister at Holy Trinity Clapham, London.

Looking straight down on someone sitting in an armchair working on a laptop. They are surrounded by clock numerals and hands on the floor.
Kevin Ku on Unsplash.

We're all going into extra time. If you've found yourself thinking, 'If only I had some more time', then this is the year for you. Congratulations. So how are you going to make the most of the extra day we're gifted? In a leap year, the 29th February square sits quietly there on the calendar, with little fanfare, unless you're one of the unfortunate souls to be celebrating your quadrennial birthday. But it's not just another Thursday. It's redemption time if you've ever flown east across the international date line and wondered where that day disappeared, never to return. 

When you think about extra time in football, the pressure is only heightened, the anticipation and trepidation palpable. Willy Wonka - no, not the recent foppish Timothée Chalamet, but Gene Wilder – famously got muddled when he feverishly announced, 'We have so much time, and so little to do!' Unlike Otis Redding, sittin' on the dock of the bay, wasting time, we have learnt to squeeze more and more into our days, making the most of the time. 

I'm not immune. I've recently begun using an AI app for scheduling meetings and tasks. This app promises to turbocharge my productivity by 137 per cent. Somehow it boasts, 'There are now 13 months in a year'. Of course, there's little way of measuring just how super-duper-extra-productive this is going to make me but so far, I still seem to only have seven days in my week. So, if we were to stop spinning on our hamster wheels of productivity for a moment, and take a look at time (given with this extra day we have the time to do so), how might we make the most of it? 

The essence of time must mean both its quality and its quantity. 

It's worth measuring not only how much time we have, but the quality of the time we have. We know how to measure time, but how do we measure this measure? Time is of the essence. But what is the essence of time? For Charles Dickens, the best of times and the worst of times went hand-in-hand. The apostle Paul warned the church in Ephesus to make the most of every opportunity, 'because the days are evil'. Is time neutral? Perhaps we should ask the women and children of Afghanistan after the Doha agreement was signed on the last 29th February, with ominous consequences. Every day has the capacity for good and evil, including in a leap year. And if the days are evil, then as we consider how we live, as the King James Version puts it, that we can 'redeem the time'. 

Then there's not only redeeming the time in terms of its quality, but also its quantity. Eventually, one day (quite some time away), HS2 will mean there's 32 minutes 'saved' for those travelling between Birmingham and London. And how many times have you said or heard recently that you've 'run out of time'? Our society treats time as a scarce commodity. There's regret over the time that we have wasted on an unworthy Netflix offering, on doom-scrolling, or that time in the post office queue we'll never get back. 

I recently went to a memorial service of a friend who died in her early 60s. It was not only a sober reminder that we don't know how much time we have, but also an inspiration to live like someone who made the most of her days, by helping others to make the most of their time. 

The essence of time must mean both its quality and its quantity. Richard Curtis' film About Time invites us into the relationship between a father and son who have the power to travel through time. While the lesson learnt is that we have the power to make the most of every day, the bulk of the film is really about the relationship. Any time he wants, the son can escape back to Cornwall and play table tennis or skim pebbles along the water with his dad. These experiences beyond his own linear timeline teach him how to live in his present reality. 

Christianity also invites us to live in the love between a Father and a Son, and from that place we keep time. Jesus spoke about eternal life: not only a quantity of life beyond death, but a quality of life that we can experience beginning today. Sure, we can't escape the reality of any of the worst times around us, but we can invite the best of times of eternity into today. Maybe our relationship with time is so fraught because we were made to live beyond time. 

The wristband on my watch recently fell apart. I suppose you could say I've been walking around without time on my hands. Time doesn't need to be elusive, slipping away from us. Time, just like the day, can be seized and grasped. King David wrote of God: 'my times are in your hands'. A leap year gives us a whole extra day of deadlines, potential ephemeral joys and sorrows. Perhaps putting our hope not in today, nor tomorrow, but into the hands of the maker of time is the greatest leap.