Couldn't have said it better myself...

"We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are."

Anais Nin

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Antioch Church Council

It's that time of the year again when every space in my diary is taken up by church councils, meetings, and conferences and I wonder what would have happened, if the church in Antioch, that we read about in Acts 11: 19-30, worked the same way as our churches today...

Chair: OK... OK... Order... I’d like to welcome you all to the Antioch Church Council meeting. And lets just open with a word of prayer: Lord Thank you that we’re all here... We pray for those who aren’t and we pray that you’d keep our minds on the job in hand... Amen. Right... Lets get down to business...
Alexander: About time too... there’s a gladiatorial show down at the Amphitheatre... I want to see the second half...
Chair: OK Alexander... Now I would invite our secretary to read the minutes of the last meeting... Secretary: Meeting of the Antioch Church Council, on the ides of March 35 AD. Those present: Alexander, Anna, Simon, Thomas, Barnabas, Agabus...
Chair: I think we can accept the names as read can’t we...
Alexander: Agreed.
Chair: Please continue...
Secretary: After the chairman opened with a word of prayer the minutes of the previous meeting were read and approved. The first item of business was a request to spend money on a new carpet in the meeting room. Simon proposed that it should be a good dark red, but Anna said that that would clash with the curtains. At this point Simon proposed that we get new curtains as well, but Thomas said that we didn’t have enough to make that amount of capital expenditure, what with falling attendance due to persecutions... Anna asked where all those people who were becoming Christians through Saul’s preaching were going. Barnabas said that many of them had gone to another church down the road in Caesarea... Simon said that he had heard that that church was lovely and modern and there were thousands flocking to it from all over the region... he said that they had matching carpet and curtains. But some members suggested that they were sheep stealing, and these converts would be better going to their local churches, like this one. But Barnabas said that some of the converts had come here but that they had told him they didn’t feel welcome... Simon said he couldn’t understand that. That they always had a reputation for accepting anyone... even gentiles. Marcus asked why he said “Even” gentiles... To which Simon said that he was just saying that they even welcomed those who weren’t part of the chosen people. Marcus then said that he was fed up feeling like a second class citizen in the church. Anna said that was nonsense. That the gentiles always had things their way since they merged the gentile and Jewish churches. Simon said he still didn’t know why they had to merge. He disagreed with all this church unity stuff. Marcus said that the only one’s who treated them like real followers of Christ were Barnabas and Saul... Simon said he never did trust Saul. That he was a turncoat and asked where Saul was, and Barnabas said he was out preaching. There followed some discussion about people missing Church Council meetings... Barnabas said that Saul felt it was more important to tell people about Jesus. The chair reminded the meeting that they were here to do Jesus’ work, and called the meeting back to the issue in hand... the colour of the new carpet. Thomas said he didn’t think we even needed a new carpet, and that the money would be better invested in a new organ. When it was pointed out that the organ hadn’t been invented yet he quietened down. There was more discussion as to whether we could afford to change carpet and curtains, or whether we should match the carpet to the curtains, or have no carpet at all and polish the wooden floor... Then Agabus, stood up and said that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. The chairman asked him to be seated, as he seemed to be drunk, and said that his concern about famine relief, would come up under Any other Business. There then followed a long discussion as to what we could do about world hunger, when we couldn’t even afford to buy both carpet and curtains. Because the discussion went on son long, the chairman proposed adjourning the meeting until next week. This was seconded by Alexander who said he had a chariot race to get to.
Chair: Is that an accurate record of last week’s meeting.
Alexander: Agreed. Now get on with it...
Chair: And on to the main item of business. The decision as to whether we are going to buy a new carpet for the meeting room...
Agabus: But what about that famine...
Chair: Sit down Agabus...

© David A. Campton 2001 (Adapted 2007)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sign him on a Free Transfer...

My morning routine once I hit my desk is, check mail, check email, schedule tasks for the day, then run my eye over the news on my internet homepage, and any blogs that I have bookmarked, an eclectic mixture of sport, politics and religion.

It isn't often that the news stories in my varied strands overlap, but this morning a story was flagged up on both my football gossip column, and religious world news, and that is that BBC pundit and former Chelsea and Newcastle midfielder Gavin Peacock is moving to Canada after he has done his stint commenting on the Euro 2008 finals, to do further theological study in preparation for a career in the church. Not being into "celebrity Christians", I didn't actually know that he was one, but he's already done his stint as a "Songs of Praise" presenter... although these days you only have to have been to church once for a flower festival to be touted as a regular church-goer by the BBC.

But Gavin has apparently been a Christian since the age of 19, having been strongly influenced by his Methodist mum. He now attends a St Michael’s Anglican Church in Bexley, where he and his wife run a house group and he regularly preaches. He already has a BA in Theology from Ridley Hall in Cambridge, but is now planning to do 3 year Masters course in Divinity at Ambrose Seminary, in Canada, after which he, reportedly, will seek to become a pastor, vicar or minister depending on which denomination he chooses to follow.

He says, like many of his/my generation “Denomination’s not important to me. When we go to a disco we see everyone dancing in a different way, different expressions - but they’re all dancing to the same tune!”

Actually the way that I see some people dance I am not to sure that they are dancing to the same tune... And I'm not always sure that different strands of the church are either... But that's a rant for a different day... But what I am wondering is whether, given that he feels that denominations are unimportant, we here in the Methodist church here in Ireland could get him on a free transfer!?

But actually... Forget that... He played for Chelsea...

You can't be a Christian and play for Chelsea can you!?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Pretty Unamazing Grace

I am being driven slowly insane by the current “hit” by Neil Diamond, entitled “Pretty Amazing Grace.” The poppy melody allied with lyrics that are trite, pseudo-spiritual, second-rate, second-hand poetry (the sort that I write but generally don’t get the opportunity to fob off on the paying public) is forcing me to change channel every time it comes on. Is it about a woman (called Grace)? Is it about an encounter with God (in Jesus)? Don’t know… And his website or sleevenotes don’t make it any clearer.
Neil Diamond has a history of using Biblical language in secular pop songs… And despite being Jewish, he doesn’t restrict his vocabulary to the Hebrew Scriptures… Among his more famous oeuvres are “I am, I said,” “Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show” or “Holly Holy”, “I'm a Believer” “Lady Magdelene,” but his less well known songs include titles like “Save Me,” “Walk on Water,” “The Way” and are littered with allusions to John the Baptist and Christ... But this latest offering has prompted a rash of “Is Neil Diamond a Christian?” bloggery… I’m not going to make a judgement on that (less I exhibit some of the “pretty amazing gracelessness” evident in some of my brothers’ and sisters’ comments on various sites), but I will say that if this is an expression of faith of some kind, then it is, sadly all too reminiscent of the individualistic, privatised, “Jesus is my heavenly boyfriend” religion, that is evident in far too many modern praise songs… It is all “me” and “I”. There is no “us” or “we”. Yet I am with Jim Wallis in his assertion that while faith must be personal, it is never private. And I am not referring here to Neil Diamond’s reluctance to speak about his faith (or lack of it)… That’s just having enough sense not to alienate any of your market! Keep them guessing.
No, the question is, whether the experience expressed in Diamond’s “Pretty amazing grace” or Newton’s “Amazing Grace”, is then reflected by grace and forgiveness in our relationships with others?
But anyway, here are the lyrics for anyone interested…

Pretty amazing grace is what you showed me
Pretty amazing grace is what you are
I was an empty vessel
You filled me up inside
And with amazing grace
Restored my pride

Pretty amazing grace is how you saved me
And with amazing grace, reclaimed my heart
Love in the midst of chaos
Calm in the heart of war
Showed with amazing grace
What love is for

You forgave my insensitivity
And my attempt to let it mislead you
You stood beside a wretch like me
And pretty amazing grace was all I needed.

Stumbled inside the doorway of your chapel
Humbled and awed by everything I found
Duty and love surround me
Freed me from what I fear
Ask for amazing grace
And you a appear

You overcame my loss of hope and faith
Gave me a truth I could believe in
You led me to a higher place
Showed me amazing grace
When grace was what I need

Look in a mirror I see your refection
Open a book you live on every page
I fall and you’re there to lift me
You share every road I climb
And with amazing grace
You ease my mind

I came to you with empty pockets first
When I returned I was a rich man
Didn’t believe love could quench my thirst
But with amazing grace, you showed me it can

In your amazing grace I had a vision
From that amazing place, I came to be
Into the night I wandered, wandering aimlessly
Found your amazing grace to comfort me

Pretty amazing…

You overcame my loss of hope and faith
Gave me a truth I could believe in
You led me to that higher place
Showed me that love, truth, hope, grace
Were all I needed.

- Neil Diamond 2008

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The End of One Season and the Beginning of Another

The football season is coming to an end... Wednesday saw the two English teams I hate most competing for a cup in the middle of the night in Moscow... and I am afraid I found myself supporting Scum Utd... I felt dirty after it... But better them than Chelski buying the cup.

Then tonight saw Rangers lose to Aberdeen and thus hand the Scottish Premier league to their arch rivals Celtic... And as I watched it out of the corner of my eye with friends in East Belfast, I breathed a sigh of relief, because I knew that in West Belfast, where my previous charge was, local Protestant and Catholic youths would be using this as an excuse to vent their frustrations on each other, and the interfaces would be littered with bricks, bottles and stones. And sure enough, when I came home and checked the internet, it turned out that there had been an outbreak of violence on at least one Northwest Belfast interface...

And so the football season gives way to the season of recreational rioting...

I thank God that I am not in the midst of it any more... but I also thank God for those who are... And who continue to pay the price of our divided society...

Just as we watch the premiership, the Scottish Premiership and the Champions league on the TV, so we watch the news bulletins about flare-ups on the interfaces, thinking that in both cases we are innocent bystanders... passive spectators...

But just as we fund the football through our TV subscriptions and purchase of football kits for our kids, so we fuel the interface violence, because we, in comfortable, middle class Northern Ireland will not play our part in bridging the divide. We simply spectate, sitting back and letting others play their sectarian games on the streets of the city.

But it's not a game...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

An Older Song

WOMAN: A night for singing songs…
MAN: Old songs and new songs
All based on an older song…
WOMAN: THE song…
MAN: The song of all songs
WOMAN: The song of a lady for her lover
MAN: The Lord for his beloved…
WOMAN: A song which began before creation…
MAN: A song of love which called light into being
A song of love which breathed life into clay
WOMAN: A song of love which gave us liberty…
Yet pursued us when we went astray.
MAN: I have loved you with an everlasting love…
I have been eternally faithful to you.
WOMAN: If only I could say the same.
Yet I have not loved you as I should;
I have not lived the life I could.
I have sought out the shadows
Rather than living in your light
Yet still you love me… Why?
MAN: I am love…
No more…
No less…
And you were created to be loved.
To be loved and to love…

WOMAN: Yet love turned to lust
For luscious fresh fruit
For knowledge, for flesh,
For riches, for power
For fresh tasting morsels to devour…
Love became lust;
Lust became lechery;
Liberty became license
License became lawlessness.
MAN: In my love I wrote to you…
WOMAN: I was too busy to respond…
MAN: In my love I sang to you…
WOMAN: You weren’t singing my tune…
MAN: In my love I sent my son to you…
Our Son…
WOMAN: Son of Woman
MAN: Son of God.
WOMAN: Light in place of darkness.
MAN: Life in place of death.
WOMAN: Yet in our liberty we made our choice
MAN: Death in place of life…
WOMAN: Darkness in place of light…
MAN: My Son, My Son, my one and only Son.
Sent so that you should not be lost
But might be set at liberty.
WOMAN: Even me?
MAN: Even you.
Believe me… And live…
Believe me… and love…
Live in my love…
Love as I love you…
WOMAN: Love my beloved
MAN: Love one another
WOMAN: Love those who love you
MAN: Love those who hate you
WOMAN: Love the loveless
MAN: Love the unlovely.
MAN: Love…
WOMAN: And this is love…
Not that I loved him…
But he loved me.
Loved me…
Loves me…
And always will love me…
Loved me into life…
Filled my life with love
Filled to overflowing…
MAN: A love that brings light;
WOMAN: A love more constant than the sun.
MAN: A love that brings life;
WOMAN: A love that is stronger than death…
MAN: A love that brings liberty;
WOMAN: Yet a love that will not let me go…
MAN: A love without limit…
WOMAN: A love like no other
that I want others to know…
MAN: I am my beloved’s
WOMAN: And he is mine…
MAN: The big day is coming…
WOMAN: And everyone is invited
MAN: Come home with me…
WOMAN: I go with my lover…
The tables are ready and waiting
and over the door is a banner saying
MAN: “I love you!”

WOMAN: A night for singing songs…
MAN: Old songs and new songs
WOMAN: Come, step into the spotlight of his love
MAN: and sing a song forever old,
WOMAN: forever new
MAN: of Light and life
WOMAN: of liberty and love.

© David A. Campton 2007

I wrote this performance poem for 2 voices, for an event this time last year run by the Down District of the Methodist Church in Ireland, staged at the Waterfront in Belfast, celebrating the Life and Work of Charles Wesley, born 300 years previously. It is based on numerous passages of scripture, especially the Song of Songs and the First Letter of John.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Would you Employ Any of these People?

It is time to confess to a guilty pleasure... Currently I don't watch much TV, but one programme I really do try to see at one time or other during the week (and no I can't record it, because I've forgotten how to work the DVD recorder I use it so infrequently, and for some reason it isn't on BBC i-Player) is BBC's The Apprentice... And its little sister "You're Fired" with the ubiquitous Adrian Chiles.

I feel a little bit uneasy about this, because it is really only a version of Big Brother for people with MBAs... but for some reason it has captured my attention in a way that none of the other unreality shows ever have... And I am no "Johnny-come-lately"... I became addicted to it from its first incarnation in the USA with Donald Trump as the Apprentice-Meister...

But hardly a week goes by when I am not left foaming at the mouth with the various contestants... It is hard to believe that such a bunch of arrogant, incompetent, unpleasant individuals could be assembled in one place... But each year the BBC trumps itself... With this year's batch being the most useless yet... And invariably, the ones who boast the most about their strengths are the ones who show themselves to be least capable with the most straighforward of tasks. I know it is all an artifice created by skillful directors and editors, but I honestly wouldn't employ any of these clampets to run a sweetie shop.

This morning on BBC Radio4's A Point of View journalist Lucy Kelleher broadcast a wonderful critique of the self-promoting, boastful culture of which these individuals are the epitomy. I wouldn't agree with some of her conclusions, but she did show up brilliantly the shift in society from the natural reserve of traditional British culture, towards a pseudo-American brashness. I must say that while I think that Alan Sugar trumps Trump as the circus master of this little freak show, the American contestants are still streets ahead in the boasting stakes... But many of them also live up to their self-descriptions. The Brits are both bad at boasting, and often fall far short of their over-egged self-evaluations. And what they boast about is the sort of things that anyone with any sort of decency would keep quiet about... their ruthlessness, their dishonesty, their willingness to steal another's husband on one occasion.

Why do I love it? I suppose it is the freak show factor (just like I occasionally flick over to watch "Britain's Got Talent" open-mouthed...)

But it should not be advocated as good practice by aspiring leaders in any sphere of civic society... The values they are espousing and the activities they are engaging in to become "The Apprentice" are actually and actively sociopathic... Demonstrating why the survival of the fittest cannot be the only force at work in the evolution and development of human society.

It also points up again the completely counter-cultural nature of the gospel, which we find in Paul's letter to the Ephesians

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no-one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:8-10

We are saved by grace, for good works... Not by graceless boasting or works of malice...

So I am glad that I serve as apprentice to a different master.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Your Name is Honoured in All that You Have Made

The Psalm for tomorrow under the revised Common Lectionary (for those who pay attention to such things, is Psalm 8. What follows is a paraphrase of Psalm 8 for 2 voices that I wrote for the New Irish Arts 10th Anniversary Show, entitled Genesis: A Celebration of Creativity.

BOTH: O LORD , our God, your name is honoured in all that you have made!

Voice 1: Beyond the boundless reaches of space
Voice 2: Higher than the heavens where the angels offer you their symphony of worship;
Voice 1: While here on earth even nursing infants gurgle in adoration
Voice 2: Toddlers shout songs of praise
Voice 1: Silencing the cynical sneering of the enemy
Voice 2: Drowning out the godless chatter of the age.

Voice 1: When I stare into the heavens above,
I see your fingerprints all over the sky…
Voice 2: I see jewellery of the finest of workmanship
with the moon mounted in an almost infinite setting of stars…
Voice 1: And I feel so small…
Voice 2: I sense the expanse between heaven and earth,
Voice 1: Creator and creature…
Voice 2: And I wonder why you bother with me?
Voice 1: Why you would look once, never mind twice, in my direction?
Voice 2: Yet I am always on your mind
Voice 1: You care for me night and day…
Voice 2: You have made me little less than a god…
Voice 1: The crown of all creation,
Voice 2: A jewel that brings joy to your heart.
Voice 1: You charged me with looking after your handiwork
Voice 2: You laid everything at my feet:
Voice 1: All creatures great and small;
Voice 2: domesticated and wild
Voice 1: The flocking birds, and shoaling fish
Voice 2: and the whales whose songs of praise circle the seven seas.

© David Campton 2004

Thursday, May 15, 2008

One Movie...

Ben Myers on his Faith and Theology blog has initiated a "One Movie that..." meme... Here is my list, for what it is worth... Draw up your own and pass it on to 5 people to see what they will make of it...

1. Made me laugh: Shrek 2

2. Made me cry: Its a Wonderful Life

3. Loved as a child: The Forbidden Planet

4. Seen more than once: Star Wars (the original)

5. Embarrassed to admit I liked: The Quiet Man

6. Hated: Meet the Fockers

7. Scared me: Jaws (the last time I jumped in a cinema... I just don't go to "horror" films.

8. Bored me: Hoodwinked

9. Made me happy: Singing in the Rain

10. Made me miserable: Presumed Innocent

11. Afraid to see: 3 and Out in case it really was as bad as everyone said.

12. Character fell in love with: Rachel Weisz's character in the Constant Gardner

13. Last movie seen: Iron Man

14. Next movie hope to see: Speed Racer, Prince Caspian or Indy IV (I've got kids)

I tag Glenn, Mark, Ross, Gareth, and Jools in anticipation of much more interesting lists.

A Trinitarian Creed

A little something for Trinity Sunday... That Sunday when all sane preachers fein illness, and congregations stagger out of church after sermons that try (and invariably fail) to "explain" the trinity... A day when I am happy to live with mystery rather than try to comprehend the fullness of God in my tiny mind.

We believe in one God,
A Community of Three in a Unity of Being.

We believe in the Creator,
Creator of sky, earth and sea,
Creator of birds, animals and fish,
and us…
Creator of all that is, seen, unseen and unimaginable.

We believe in Jesus Christ,
Born of God…
Born of woman…
Born, lived, died, and rose again,
Born to teach, save, and give us hope.

We believe in the Holy Spirit,
The all pervading breath of God.
Who breathed life into us in the beginning
Who breathed life into the church at Pentecost
Who brings gifts and strength, and encouragement.

We believe in God, the Three in One.
The One in Three
The blessed, sacred Trinity.
An eternal dance of personality;
Diversity in unity
Creator, redeemer, sustainer.

We believe in the Church
Diversity in unity
A community stretching around the globe
And through the ages
And stretching out to all creation
Redeeming, sustaining.

We believe in God
We live in God
Three in one, one in three.
The living, loving trinity.

Now the disclaimer... The sad thing is, I can't remember where this came from... I think I may have devised it for a worship resource a few years ago, but forgot to label it appropriately... Or I may have stolen it from someone else... If the latter is the case and the author stumbles across this, just let me know and I will immediately take it down, for fear of infringing on anyone's intellectual rights...

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Fastest Baptism in the World

Check out this link for a very practical reason for infant baptism...Counterson this and a number of other blogs some people are somewhat distressed at the lack of respect shown for the sacrament of baptism... I just laughed. But that probably shows that I'm damned!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Happy Birthday Church

It's that time again so here is a sketch I wrote for Pentecost a few years ago. It's based on Ephesians 4: 7 which says:

"Christ has given each of us special abilities—whatever he wants us to have out of his rich storehouse of gifts." (The Living Bible)

All: (Singing) Happy Birthday to you... Happy birthday to you...
1: Happy Birthday... (Offering gift to number 2)
2: O thanks... (taking gift and putting it straight down behind him)
1: Aren’t you going to open it?
2: Open what?
1: The gift!
2: What gift?
1: That gift!
2: Where?
1: There!
2: I don’t see any gift?
1: There... I just gave to you...
2: No you didn’t...
1: Yes I did...
2: Don’t believe you...
1: Oh I give up!
All: (Singing) Happy Birthday to you... Happy birthday to you...
1: Happy Birthday... (Offering gift to number 3)
3: O thanks... (taking gift and ripping off paper... finding tambourine) Amazing just what I always wanted... (starts banging it without any sense of rhythm... until finally throws it over his shoulder...) Anything else?
1: What?
3: Any other gifts?
1: No... That was yours... You just threw it away...
3: I was tired of that one... You must have others in there...
1: No... They’re for others...
3: Aw... Come on...
1: No...
3: Spoilsport!
All: (Singing) Happy Birthday to you... Happy birthday to you...
1: Happy Birthday... (Offering gift to number 4)
4: No thanks...
1: What?
4: Don’t need it...
1: What?
4: I’ve got lots of great stuff... Why would I need your cheap gift?
1: Well... I... Oh, never mind...
All: (Singing) Happy Birthday to you... Happy birthday to you...
1: Happy Birthday... (Offering gift to number 5)
5: O thanks... Thanks very much (taking gift and unwrapping it to find a big tin of Quality Street)1: You’re welcome...
5: That’s so kind... There’s so much here... Do you mind if I share them out?
1: No... That’s why I gave them to you...
5: Would you like one yourself...
1: Don’t mind if I do...
All: (Singing) Happy Birthday to you... Happy birthday to you... Happy Birthday dear church... Happy Birthday to you...
1: Grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ's gift.
© David Campton 2005

What is the Future of Methodism?

Again, while browsing the "Ship of Fools" website I came across this discussion strand on the future of Methodism in Britain ... I wonder what a similar discussion strand here in Ireland would produce... get your crystal orbs out!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Happy are the Conservatives

No, this isn't another blog on the results of last week's local elections on the other island, but a reflection on a report I found via the satirical Christian website, Ship of Fools, which suggests that those of a more conservative bent, socially, politically and theologically are more content than those who have more liberal tendencies. Conservatives apparently reported greater life satisfaction and well-being than more left-leaning individuals and scored highest on measures of rationalization, which gauge a person's tendency to justify, or explain away, inequalities.
Now this doesn't explain the right's tendency to moan, and stir up fear about everything from asylum seekers to the World Council of Churches, but certainly is borne out by the tendency of most social activists I know to slip into a collective slough of despond every time they come together.

The issue for me is not one of theological orientation, but complacency, feeling that everything is black and white, and that we (whoever "we" are) have all the answers. Where conservatism drifts into the position that even though "the rest of the world is going to hell in a rocket-powered handcart but I'm out of here on the rapture elevator" then there are problems... Just as when liberalism drifts into the "we're all headed for heaven on earth, and would get there a lot quicker if you evil conservatives thought and acted like us," mentality...

But I don't think we should be adding this particular analysis to the amplified versions of Jesus' beatitudes...

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Sacred Space

Visited Durham Cathedral for the first time last summer, and quite an impressive edifice it is too, embodying a millenium of Christian worship on a single site.

It also features in Stuart Maconie's travelogue around the north of England "Pies and Prejudice" that I have been reading recently, and whilst he shows little awareness of a "spiritual" dimension to life elsewhere in the book, he writes this about Durham Cathedral...

" is truly stunning. I thought, as I always do when entering one of those places, of how powerful, how ferrifying even, the presence of God must have been in the lives of rich and poor alike to make them build these edifices - not just build them, but so skilfully and impressively, that just entering makes you feel oddly godly. The sheer authority of the place almost forces you to your knees, like a giant hand on your shoulder. Durham Cathedral is religious certainty written in unyielding stone and stained glass; a vast, daunting embodiment of an unprovable, abstract idea..."

It made me think. What do our church buildings today say about our understanding of God?

Monday, May 5, 2008

A Psalm for Ascension Sunday

Sing songs to God,
sing praise to his name:
Lift up a song to the one who rides upon the clouds!

Let those made right with God be glad,
Let them rejoice before their Lord:
Lift up a song to the one who rides upon the clouds!

His name is the Great I AM,
Let us rejoice before him:
Lift up a song to the one who rides upon the clouds!

Father to the fatherless, defender of widows,
is God whose home is on high:
Lift up a song to the one who rides upon the clouds!

He creates homes for the homeless
And places the lonely in a loving family:
Lift up a song to the one who rides upon the clouds!

He leads prisoners to freedom, singing for joy;
but leaves rebels to rot in the heat of the sun:
Lift up a song to the one who rides upon the clouds!

Sing to God, all you nations of the earth,
sing praise to the Great I AM,
Lift up a song to the one who rides upon the clouds!

Proclaim the power of God,
who thunders with mighty voice.
Lift up a song to the one who rides upon the clouds!
Praise be to God!

Adapted from Psalms 68:3-6, 32-35

Sunday, May 4, 2008

St. Boris's Day

Apparently, for members of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, last Friday was St. Boris's Day. So I suppose it is appropriate that Friday was the day that Boris Johnson took over as Mayor of London for the next 4 years… Just the person you want representing your city when the Olympics come to town! But that is the democratic choice of the people of London… Mind you, with a choice between "Red Ken" and "Bumbling Boris" who would you choose?
Certainly, one of the things that worked in Boris’s favour is the groundswell of opinion against Gordon Brown’s Labour Government… A combination of the 10p tax-band botch-up, the credit crunch and the colossal hike in petrol prices has conspired to make Gordon Brown the most unpopular Prime Minister since Neville Chamberlain… Some of that unpopularity may well be the product of media hype, but at least the British population have the opportunity to express their feelings at the ballot box.
Think of the people of Zimbabwe… A full month ago people there walked for miles and queued through the night to make their vote count in the parliamentary and presidential elections. Since that time Robert Mugabe has done all within his power to overturn the results and hold on to power one way or another… This week the Zimbabwean electoral commission have suggested that while Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change got more votes than any other Presidential candidate, he did not get more than 50% of the votes cast and therefore will have to take part in a run-off against Mugabe… But given that re-run will be against a background of a full month of violent retribution against those who had dared to vote against Mugabe first time round, you can understand his reluctance to do so.
Democratic government is NOT a divine right… And what is right is not always what is popular… Just look at the election of Boris Johnston… Or more seriously, the election of Hitler in Germany in 1933… But Hitler’s nemesis, Winston Churchill was right when he said in 1947, "democracy is the worst form of government, except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."
Last week it was announced that the local elections here in Northern Ireland will be delayed for 2 years, until 2011, allowing the new council areas to be settled beforehand… And fvery few people were disappointed at the delay. That is because we take our democratic rights for granted. Indeed at the last general election only 59% of adults could be bothered voting at all.
Yet as Christians have a responsibility to use all our gifts with gratitude and grace… not purely for ourselves but for the benefit of others…
So as we pray for the people of Zimbabwe and Tibet and others denied the privilege of electing their own leaders, let us remember to pray for our own political representatives… and our use of the gift of democracy…

This was first broadcast, in a shortened form, as the Review of the Week, on Downtown Radio's Dawn Reflections, Sunday 4th May, 2008.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Looking for a Super Hero

Last night I took my son Owain and his friend to see the new film "Iron Man", but the kids were only an excuse. I have been busting to see this movie for months. OK! OK! It sums up everything that is wrong with Hollywood film-making... real artistic creativity supplanted by big names, big budgets, big bangs and CGI. But this was "Iron Man."

Now for some people their super-hero of choice is Superman... But he was of the wrong era, and wrong planet for me... And that costume was way too camp! Others prefer Batman... either in the form of the 1960's Adam West send up, or the later brooding "Dark Knight"... But again that wasn't quite me... Didn't quite get the buddy-thing going on with Robin. Then of course there is Spiderman... For my other son Ciaran, no other superhero quite matches up to the webslinger... and he isn't alone in that... Do you know that there are apparently more Spiderman pyjamas sold than any other type?

But my favourite superhero when I was a boy was Iron Man... and the reason was that the man behind him was Tony Stark... whose only "super-power" was his intellect... In fact he was physically handicapped, with a dodgy heart, which he had to support with a piece of electrical wizardry...

See, as a child I knew I was no great shakes at most physical endeavours... but I knew (with the arrogance of a child) that I was intellectually smarter than most of my peers... So Iron Man was my sort of superhero... One who was created by intellectual endeavour, rather than born or produced by a freak accident.

But anyway, back to the film... The story has been updated a little from when I was reading it back in my primary school days... Stark Industries, owned by Iron Man's alter-ego, is, as then, an arms company, but in the film it is involved in shady dealings with Afghani insurgents (unknown to our hero). Of course the film-makers are careful to avoid labelling the terrorists as Muslim, but the good-guys are unashamedly American, while the arms-trader supplying the terrorists with weapons is clearly insane and a rogue individual within a principled industry!

These attempts at putting a moral core at the heart of the film were a little embarassing, but it did remind me that most people long for a quick fix to the issues of Afghanistan and the Middle East... We're looking for a superhero to sort it all out. But not even Iron Man would be equal to sorting out the mess we have created there, thanks to the Tony and George W show...

But humanity has always looked for a superhero to sort everthing out...

At the time of Jesus, the Jews looked for a Messiah who would rally the armies of heaven to vanquish all their enemies... In Mark's Gospel, the whole story leads us tantalisingly along the path that points to Jesus being that type of Messiah... All his miracles acting as clues to his super-hero identity... But then, after asking his disciples who they think he is, he shows that he had really come to die... Or as John makes clear at the outset of his gospel, the eternally creative Word of God took on flesh to dwell with us for a time... To come alongside us...

And there are still those who are looking for a superhero God... Staring into the clouds like the disciples in Luke's account of the ascension, waiting for Jesus to come back to earth... Descending like Iron Man with his repulsor beams, ready to vanquish the forces of evil.

But how and when Jesus will return is not known... So it is up to us to carry on the job of making God's word incarnate in this hurting world. Using all our God-given powers, our physical, intellectual and spiritual gifts to make what difference we can.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Building the Church

Last Sunday was the 40th Anniversary of the stone-laying ceremony of the premises of my current church in Ballybeen, and I was preaching on the nature of the church as described in I Peter 2: 4-10 in the light of Jesus' response to Simon Peter's confession in Matthew 16: 17-18, and I was reminded of the following dialogue that I wrote on a previous exploration of these same passages:

Peter: Eh... Jesus...?
Jesus: Yes, Peter?
Peter: Its about that church...
Jesus: What church Peter?
Peter: The church... your church... the one you’re going to build on me.
Jesus: Oh that church... What about it?
Peter: I was just wondering what it was going to be like...
Jesus: That depends...
Peter: Depends on what?
Jesus: The building material...
Peter: Oh right... See I fancied a big cathedral, a basilica... Made out of marble. I’ve been and seen the architect and he says...
Jesus: No I think you misunderstand me Peter...
Peter: Oh, you fancy something smaller... More cosy and comfortable... Made out of bricks and...
Jesus: No Peter... What I’m saying is that my church will not be made of bricks and mortar, or polished stone, but from living stones...
Peter: Living stones? Is that some sort of environmentally friendly stuff... Biodegradable building materials?
Jesus: I suppose you could put it that way... But I’m actually talking about people...
Peter: People!? Oh, I see, “living stones” that’s one of your parable things again, isn’t it... I like it... Very poetic... have to write that down to use that myself some time...
Jesus: Recycling my words... You are getting to be environmentally friendly!!
Peter: So you’re not really going to “build” a church building... You’re really going to form an organisation... Can I be the Chairman... John could be secretary... he writes well, but should we have Matthew or Judas as treasurer? And what about the constitution? Do we need to get legal advice? The lawyers aren't too keen on you, you know...
Jesus: No... its not an organisation either, Peter.
Peter: What? If its not an organisation or a building what is it then?
Jesus: Well, I suppose you could call it a body... or maybe a family...
Peter: Well, how can you become part of this family?
Jesus: Same way as ever... You’re born into it...
Peter: Oh so this church will only take people if they have the right father...
Jesus: I suppose you might say that... When you are born again as a child of God...
Peter: Born again?
Jesus: Yes... Go and ask Nicodemus... I explained all that to him...
Peter: So can anyone be part of this family, this church?
Jesus: Yes.
Peter: Gentiles as well as Jews?
Jesus: Yes.
Peter: Women as well as men?
Jesus: Yes.
Peter: Children as well as adults?
Jesus: Yes. Yes. Yes. Everyone. Anyone. All sizes, shapes, colours, cultures, languages and inside leg measurements...
Peter: No restrictions?
Jesus: No.
Peter: But then how do you keep the riff-raff out?
Jesus: They are the very ones I want in...
Peter: Sounds like a pretty dysfunctional family if you ask me...
Jesus: I didn’t...
Peter: But Jesus... You said you were going to build this church on me... Yet you haven’t given me the slightest clue how its supposed to work... You haven’t told me how it should worship... What songs it should sing... How it should be run... What we will call its leaders... What costumes we should wear...
Jesus: What does it matter?
Peter: What does it matter? Well, what happens if you disappear off the face of the earth, and I drop dead? What will happen then? Will the whole thing just disappear in a puff of smoke?
Jesus: Well, that would be an interesting way of choosing your successor?
Peter: What?
Jesus: Never mind... And never mind about the church... You’re not the builder... God is. Just you concentrate on following me.
Peter: That’s hard enough...
Jesus: I suppose it is... But its only when each living stone is following me, that they will fit together into a church which is useful and attractive.
Peter: A church that is useful and attractive... That’s a nice idea... A multipurpose building with pastel colours, soft seats...
Jesus: Peter... How many times do I need to tell you? the church is not a building...
Peter: Sorry Jesus... Its hard to think of it in other ways...
Jesus: You’ll not be alone in that Peter...
Peter: But I do like the idea of it being made of living stones...
Jesus: I’m glad... Actually, that reminds me of a joke... What would you say to a member of the
church who practices medicine if you met him in the jungle?
Peter: I don’t know, what would you say to a member of the church who practices medicine if you met him in the jungle?
Jesus: Dr. Living Stone I presume...
Peter: I don’t get it...
Jesus: Don’t worry, it’ll make sense in about 2000 years...
Peter: Yes but will this church you’re talking about still make sense in 2000 years?

© David Campton 2003
with apologies to John Bell and Graham Maule who first devised this format with their "Eh, Jesus, Yes Peter" dialogues.