Couldn't have said it better myself...

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

Anais Nin

Monday, June 22, 2009

5 Theological Books Meme

Came across this meme on Scotteriology. I wasn't actually tagged... Scott Bailey its author wouldn't know me if I bit him... but a number of things about this meme set me thinking. First, I've been doing far too many Facebook "5 of" quizzes recently (I'm weaning myself off), but this involves a bit more thought. Second, the word meme was devised by Richard Dawkins to describe an idea that develops a reproductive life of its own, and given his well know antipathy to religion, I thought that the fact that this meme is about theological books was particularly ironic.

The rules to this particular meme were originally that you should name the five books that had the most immediate and lasting influence on how you read the Bible. Note that these need not be your five favorite books, or even the five with which you most strongly agree, but what five books have permanently changed the way you think. After this the idea was to tag five others.
But, as appropriate with memes (as with genes) they mutate en route and Mr Bailey made a slight modification, asking for five books that have affected both biblical studies AND theology –as separate entities. So here are my five in each category (in no particular order), both of which are influenced by the fact that I come from what is a relatively conservative evangelical backwater... So those books that were radical to me in my formative years are the equivalent of the Ladybird Book of Biblical Studies!

1) In the Shadow of the Galilean by Gerd Theissen: an exploration of the search for the historical Jesus in a form that appealled to my pseudo-artistic side.

2) Poet and Peasant/Through Peasant Eyes by Ken Bailey: a real eye-opener on the parables in particular and the socio-historic locus of all Biblical studies in general.

3) 5 Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work by Eugene Peterson: Helped me locate the liturgical context of these OT texts as well as their practical/pastoral application.

4) Binding the Strong Man by Ched Myers: my introduction to reading the gospels politically.

5) The Social Setting of Pauline Christianity also by Gerd Theissen: a sociological analysis of the NT, especially the Corinthian community. Helped me to understand that the social structures of the ancient world helped shape the scriptures.

1) Surprised by Hope by Tom Wright: a revolutionary rearticulation of the doctrine of the resurrection and its importance for all Christian endeavour, including social engagement.

2) The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer: the title says it all.

3) For God and his Glory Alone by ECONI: little more than a pamphlet, which helped me to see that my call to ministry WAS more than saving souls and burying the dead.

4) The Gravedigger File by Os Guinness: my first encounter with someone articulately engaging with modern society from a Biblical perspective.

5) The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis: a children's book that is none too subtle in its eschatology, but which at the age of 14 woke me up to both the underlying metaphor of the Narnia tales (I'm a bit slow at times) and C.S. Lewis' other life as a theologian. Some of my theology hasn't progressed much beyond the Last Battle!

Honourable mentions should also go to the Radical Wesley by Howard Snyder, the Peaceable Kingdom by Stanley Hauerwas and (if I am totally honest) What's So Amazing About Grace by Yancey.

So that's it, for what it's worth... Even in this image-dominated, technological world in which we live, I am still a bibliophile, and although I read a lot on the web, I must have at least 1 book on the go at any one time, usually 3: 1 theological, another factual book, and another to relax to. Because of my love of books, I've tried to encourage others in this, by establishing a "Good Book Group" this year at church. It is small, but good craic... And so to the lists above, let me briefly add the 5 books that we have studied as a book group this year. I've written about them all elsewhere (see the sidebar or fb if you must) so I won't go into too much detail here:

1) Simply Christian by Tom Wright: essentially a well written, readable, modern reworking of C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity...

2) Jesus - Safe, Tender Extreme by Adrian Plass: a piece of badly written and worse editted personal therapy.

3) The Shack by William Young: it's all been said elsewhere, but as I have also said elsewhere, neither worth the hype (including by Eugene Peterson) nor deserving the description of heresy.

4) Fuelling the Fire by Dennis Lennon: a welcome ray of light among a lot of dross... it isn't quite as described a "fresh" look at prayer, but a welcome reminder of what prayer could and should be.

5) Living the Resurrection by Eugene Peterson: doesn't quite do what it says, but tries to look at the spiritual disciplines of sabbath observance, baptism and communion as means of helping us on the daily working out of the doctrine of resurrection. I thought that this would chime well with some of Tom Wright's themes, but it was such a slight and badly reasoned book that it didn't impress the group.

Any suggestions for our group next year? I tag Crookedshore, Jools, Revmac, Cherylwonders and Mark Russell. Go do your worst...

ps it has also spread to: TWIMC (in a suitably mutated form) and Why Not Smile
pps. In a weird way, every time I re-edit this post, while it is loading up blogger keeps posting an ad for Richard Dawkin's latest opus... Curiouser and curiouser...

Sunday, June 21, 2009

With a Father's Help...

If you haven't come across Team Hoyt before, do yourself a favour and check our the story of Rick Hoyt and his father Dick. The story has become a little over-egged in the telling, but check it out on their own website. It is a tale of real love and determination.

There is, as the Team Hoyt website says, some grounds for making Dick Hoyt the dictionary definition of what a father should be and voting him the father of the century. Certainly he is setting the bar pretty high for the rest of us.
But as I said to my own congregation this morning, even Dick Hoyt's love for his son is only a pale shadow of the love that our heavenly Father has for each of us. That is the reason for Paul's prayer in the letter to the Ephesians:
I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fulness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
Ephesians 3:14-21 (ANIV)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

They Tuck you Up...

Philip Larkin's famously misanthropic "This be the Verse" will probably not be quoted much in Fathers' Day Services tomorrow... Although there is a certain truth in it, and whether mothers or fathers do more of the ****ing up in general is debatable. However, I discovered a few weeks ago, thanks to Maggi Dawn, this more positive riposte to Larkin...
They tuck you up, your mum and dad
They read you Peter Rabbit, too.
They give you all the treats they had
And add some extra, just for you.

They were tucked up when they were small,
(Pink perfume, blue tobacco-smoke),
By those whose kiss healed any fall,
Whose laughter doubled any joke.

Man hands on happiness to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
So love your parents all you can
And have some cheerful kids yourself.
Adrian Mitchell

To be honest, I can never remember being tucked up, or tucked in, by my own Dad. He wasn't that kind of man, or from that kind of social background. But I do hope that my own kids will have positive memories of being tucked up by me, no matter how I may have ****ed them up in other ways.

But let me finish with a story told by Jeff Lucas. I don't know where I came across this, perhaps someone else can supply the reference. But Jeff had received a phone call to tell him his Dad was dying. He rushed to the airport and got the next plane, and was soon at his Dad's bedside in the hospital. His Dad was conscious, and as he held his hand and smoothed his hair he smiled, but said nothing. His Dad hadn't been able to speak for four years since a major stroke. Jeff knew that time was short, and he said: "Dad, I love you so very much. You know that don't you?" His Dad smiled, but then his eyes clouded over. He was struggling to say something but he couldn't. But for Jeff, everything had been said some months before, without a word being exchanged.
Jeff had been staying overnight at his parents' house whilst on a speaking tour, and he was staying in his old room. He was tired after a long day and went to bed early, when there was a gentle knock on the door. His Dad came in and knelt down silently by the bed. He took the blankets and sheets and tucked Jeff in, just as he had 35 years before. He kissed his cheek, brushed a stray hair from his forehead, and left. Jeff lay there in the dark aware that he, a 40 year old adult had just been tucked in and made feel warm and secure by his frail old father. And it felt good...

Whatever your relationship with your earthly father, may you know the love of your heavenly Father (who is described as being a father even to the fatherless)... not just for one day in the year, but today, tomorrow, and every day...

ps. imonk just posted some interesting questions/challenges for parents of teenaged children. Worth a look.


Friday, June 19, 2009

All in White Shall Wait Around...

"These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, "they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."

Revelation 7:14-17 (ANIV)

I used this passage at one of the two funerals I have conducted this week but I never realised that at least one council in England is making sure that the departed are kitted out in their white robes before they are committed to God.

Apparently Kirklees Council have banned people from being cremated wearing their own clothes, instead requiring that bereaved relatives pay an extra £60 for a 100% natural shroud, which is not going to give off any nasty toxins. They have likewise banned the inclusion of any fluffy toys from grieving (or indeed deceased) children. The funeral I conducted at the crematorium this week was before I read this news so I haven't yet got to check whether Belfast City Council have jumped on this particular environmental (with the emphasis on the mental) bandwagon.

Now, its been a while since I've done any organic chemistry, but given the toxins that burning protein and varnished wood already give off, I would reckon that those emitted by a cremated polyester suit or pink fluffy bunny would be relatively negligible... OK, people should not dress the deceased in puffa jackets, shell suits and wellington boots, nor should they pack their coffins with 300 beanie babies... nor indeed include 2 cans of budweiser as I heard had been tucked in the armpits of someone who had managed to kill himself in a drink driving incident recently (nice!), but saying goodbye to a loved one is difficult enough without rules and regulations making it harder and less personal.

Because of changes in rules and regulations regarding depths of graves (and I suspect laziness on the part of grave-diggers who didn't dig the earlier graves deep enough) the family of the lady who I buried this week, discovered that whilst they had expected her to be buried with her husband in a family grave, that plot had been declared closed. So they had to bury her in a new plot, at the far end of the cemetery from her husband and siblings. This caused incredible stress at an already fraught time, and I was thankful for the support of a wonderful funeral director in doing all that he possibly could to remedy this difficult situation , although to no avail.

There are enough hurdles to negotiate at such a time. Being told that your loved one needs to be dressed in an environmentally friendly frilly shroud is an unnecessary one, and I trust that it will never become de rigeur here.

Let's leave the outfitting for eternity to God, and while he wipes the eyes of those who have departed, let us seek to dry the tears of those who remain behind, rather than wrapping them up in red tape.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Happy Boxing Day

So what did you do for Christmas?

Remember last December, a number of papers covered the story about astronomers calculating the actual date of the birth of Jesus, as per the story of the star in Matthew's gospel? Well, supposing that the star was a conjunction of Venus and Jupiter in the constellation of Leo, according to their calculations it was 17th June 2BC. So that makes yesterday Christmas and today Boxing Day. So I hope you didn't overdo it on the turkey, stuffing and pudding.

But if we DID move the Christian celebration of Jesus' birth to 17th June, then perhaps that would throw off the scent of the hedonists and capitalists who have completely trashed the current one, and stop the endless bleating about "Putting Christ back into Xmas". Let them have their Winterval... it was only ever a pagan festival with a little Christianity sprinkled over the top anyway...

However, even that might be sunk by an event being run in an office where a member of my congregation is the catering manager. Today they are having a "Halfway to Christmas" event, complete with tree, mistletoe, turkey and all the trimmings.

There's no escape...

ps. the story also made it onto the "One Show" last night, but it clearly fits into the "missable" category because it is unavailable on BBC iPlayer.

pps. perhaps the greatest Christmas present the people of Northern Ireland could have recieved in this week of bad news, is the welcome suggestion that Loyalist groupings have, at last, begun to verifiably decommission their weapons.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Shame and Irony

Awoke this morning to find that Northern Ireland was back in the national and international news for all the wrong reasons, with racist attacks in South Belfast having increased to such an extent that around 20 Romanian families (approximately 100 people) had to be evacuated from their homes last night and spend their night in the premises of City Church, about a mile from the area.

There's been lots of coverage on most news media and phone-ins, as well as much blog traffic. As ever I would point you in the direction of Crookedshore, as well as the post by Alan in Belfast, with at least one of the follow-up comments reminding us that most of these people are Roma, rather than ethnic Romanians, noting (without, I trust, seeking to justify their treatment here) that they are not likely to return to Romania itself with any sense of security, because of the persecution that Roma routinely experience there.

I am not going to make any profound statement, except to say that such persecution is a violation of all that scripture has to say about protecting the alien in our midst and practising hospitality (you can look the numerous references up yourselves), and that all of us as churches should stand in solidarity with all those of foreign origin in our midst. I am pleased that it was a church that was used as the place of sanctuary, and that other churches provided food for these families. But we need churches to speak out and stand up so that such places of sanctuary are not needed.

It is ironic that women from my own church are currently in Romania with a cross-community group, engaged in a Habitat for Humanity building project. Their leader, has informed us via facebook that they are all being made very welcome there. So while we build houses for the poor in Romania, we are trying to drive them out of their houses in Belfast...

Sunday, June 14, 2009

From Slavery to Freedom

This morning my colleague David Cooper preached at the first of a series of anniversary services in Dundonald Methodist. He had been minister to that congregation over 40 years ago when it was still a church plant operating out of a temporary hut. He spoke on "Celebrating the Journey with Jesus" and was excellent. But what he said reminded me of this piece that I wrote for an event at the Methodist Conference the last time it was in Dublin 5 years ago.

From slavery to freedom;
A long road through the desert.
No short-cuts, but
Made longer by a lack of trust
And a longing for the past;
Pots of meat at the end of a day.
Ah! The good old days…
It may have been slavery,
But at least you got your supper.

But despite their disobedience
And their grumbling
You travelled with them.
They thought they carried you in a box
But you carried them in the palm of your hand.
You provided for them.
You protected them.
You fought for them.
Stood behind them to guard their backs.
Went ahead of them to blaze the trail.
You pitched your tent in their midst.

A tent
Not a temple
But a tent
A temporary stopping place
On the long road
From slavery to freedom.

© David Campton 2004

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Egging on the BNP

I have stated before how anxious I am at the rise of the BNP on the back of political disaffection in England, but yesterday's pelting of them with eggs, was, as another blogger put it, "a waste of perfectly good eggs." In fact it was worse than that... It will help to reinforce their mythos of being a persecuted minority in "their own" country. The way to counter them is not with violent action, even something as monor as throwing eggs, but with non-violent protest and rigorous public debate.

It was interesting to hear that the policy of the BNP is not to use their MEP windfall to further the cause of the party or to feather their own nests (or build an island in their moats so that ducks can feather their own nests) but to give a tithe to community ventures, such as the celebration of St. George's Day (the celebration of a semi-mythical Syrian soldier in the Roman army) or a Christian Christmas... Skip over to the Unfinished Christian's blog for his take on this and some interesting statistics about the "tide" of immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

BNP voters are not necessarily racist. Many of them probably voted for the BNP just to register their frustration with the mainline parties in the wake of economic disaster and the allowances scandal. But the BNP itself undoubtedly is. Their claims that they are no more racist than the "Black Police Officers' Association" and other such racially defined groupings, holds no water. The issue is not (as some have made it) the fact that only British caucasians may join, but the nature of the BNP's manifesto which is entirely hostile to other races and their place in British society. Any minority group banding together for mutual support in the face of institutional racism is entirely understandable, but an exclusive majority group campaigning for the expulsion of minorities is not. Were any exclusive minority group to start promulgating offensive and racist material, THEN they could and should be described as racist.

Despite repeated flirtations with racism, be it in the US or South Africa or elsewhere, Christianity is expressly inclusive, at least on race lines... See Colossians 3: 11 for example...

So would I take a tithe from the BNP to celebrate a "Christian Christmas"? Well, I've taken money from all sorts of strange places to do all sorts of things, believing in William Booth's adage that there IS such a thing as dirty money, but that we can wash it! Were I to be offered such money with no other strings than it was to celebrate a "Christian Christmas" I might have quite a bit of fun inviting a diverse group of people to a dinner to celebrate the birth of a Jewish refugee, who grew up to invite all nations to be his disciples... We could have shredded peking duck pancakes for starters, for the main course we could go Jamaican with rice, gungo peas and curried goat, while for desert we could have the Phillipino Puto Bumbong, washed down with Romanian Palinca. I might even invite members of the BNP, though they may not come, a bit like those in Jesus' day who had an exclusive view of who was welcome at God's table...
But if others were to engage in community tithing, then I perhaps wouldn't need to accept money from such a distasteful source...

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Election Results

Tis' the season for elections. Last week's council and European elections seem to have sealed Gordon Brown's fate. The parliamentary Labour Party are unlikely to try to topple him now, but most commentators agree that this is only because no-one else wants to lead Labour into the electoral rout that the general election is likely to be next year. An instant economic miracle seems to be the only thing that will save them.

The European results here were equally demonstrative, with the republicans topping the poll for the first ever time, whilst the Unionist cut each other to ribbons... the only thing that Unionism has to be thankful for is that they managed to get two representatives elected despite this. There was a very real possibility of SDLP taking the third seat. There are many lessons to be learned here. I only hope that it will not result in the DUP running further to the right again, stirring up yet more anti-republican/nationalist/Roman Catholic feeling as a means of rallying their grass-roots and clinging on to power in Stormont and Westminster.

I'm just back from the Irish Methodist Conference in Dublin and there were some interesting, if not historic, votes and elections there too. As is our tradition we not only installed our President for 2009-10, we also elected our President Designate for 2010-11, and this will be Rev. Paul Kingston (C)... so designated not because he is conservative (with a large or small c) but to distinguish him from his relatives Paul Kingston (A) and Paul Kingston (B). There's a lot of these Kingstons about... a point I shall return to later.

Thanks to another long campaigned-for decision, Paul (C) will be the first President of the Methodist Church in Ireland who will also be the President of the Annual Conference of the Methodist Church in Ireland. Since the time of John Wesley (apart from a few extraordinary cases) the conference has been chaired by the British Methodist President and our own President has been Vice-President of the Conference. So this confusing post-colonial anomaly is now consigned to the history books, although conference was very keen that we should make all efforts to retain a strong link with the British Methodist Church.

We have introduced a new point of confusion however, by electing, for the first time, a Lay Leader, of Conference. Its not the fact of electing a lay leader, which, in my humble opinion, is a positive step forward in breaking the stultifying clericalism which can tend to pervade Irish Methodism as with many churches, but the fact that we have elected Mrs. Gillian Kingston to that role. She is a worthy winner having faithfully represented the Methodist Church in Ireland in a number of roles previously. However, for the first year of her three year term she is going to spend more time than is necessary explaining that despite her being Mrs. Kingston, she is NOT the wife of the President.

But I wish both Mr. and Mrs. Kingston well as they prepare for their new roles.

However, of all the elections at this time, perhaps the most momentous is the one yet to come... The election for the President of Iran this coming Friday, where there is a real possibility that the radical President Ahmadinejad may be toppled by the reformist candidate and former Prime Minister Mousavi. Whether this is the case and the response of Ahmadinejad and his supporters if it is, may well dictate the political landscape, not only of the middle east, but also of America and Europe, for the next 4 years.

I for one, will be watching avidly and prayerfully...

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Holy Conferencing Batman!!!!

Today the Annual Conference of the Methodist Church in Ireland begins in Dublin, and I shall be attending with my usual good grace, expecting great things.

No... Those who no me know fine well that I am grumbler in chief, although I feel that there are many in conference who run a sweep on how long it will take the pent up frustration within me to bubble up and lead me to vent steam from every orifice over some inconsequential matter. I really don't like conference, and although it is shorter this year, by a half day, the daily sessions are longer.

But I am genuinely trying to go with a different attitude this year especially after a colleague in Grand Rapids, Laurie Haller (who is a relatively sane individual) posted on her blog site a comment in advance of the West Michigan Annual conference, referring to 'John Wesley's notion of "holy conferencing"' which he saw as "a means of grace, along with reading the Bible, attending worship, praying and receiving the sacraments." That's a HIGH theology of conference!

But if we approach conference with that sort of mindset Laurie suggests that "The business that we conduct... is not mundane, perfunctory or meaningless. It is sacred work."

To that end Laurie further suggests that (please excuse the transatlantic spelling):

  • Holy conferencing means that we don't all have to agree, but we do need to honor and respect the views of others.

  • Holy conferencing means that our personal agendas are set aside in favor of an attempt to discern God's will together.

  • Holy conferencing means that we are continually enlarging our vision to include all people at the conference table, which is really the table of the Lord.

  • Holy conferencing means that rather than complain about what the conference or our local church isn't doing for us, we remember that we are the conference, and we are the local church.

  • Holy conferencing means that we release the power of the Holy Spirit to blow where it wills.

You know... I'm going to give it a go... Anyone fancy a sweepstake on how long I will stick with the programme!?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Come hear the Music Play

On Saturday night while most of Britain were watching SuBo, Stavros Flatley and others on Britain's Got Talent, and a few other discerning citizen's of Belfast were elsewhere in this fair city watching a modernised mystery cycle, my wife and I went to the production of Cabaret at the Grand Opera House.

As we crossed the road to get to the theatre we passed a pink fire engine which had been converted to a luxury limousine, packed with well-oiled young "ladies" out for the night. And one of these delightful creatures reversed herself into the small, open side window of this vehicle and treated me and other passers-by to a proctologist's-eye view of her... But it was a suitable introduction towhat was to come...

I've never seen the stage version of Cabaret before, despite seeing the Bob Fosse/Liza Minnelli film many times. They are completely different beasts, not only in terms of plaot and characters, but also because the play is much more "in your face" than the film (a la that young lady's buttocks), but I am not sure whether that is a function of Hollywood prurience (although the film was risque for its time), or the need to go that little bit further today for shock value. I would be interested in hearing the verdict of anyone who had seen both the 1960s and the modern version of the stage show. Especially as regards the last naked tableau, with the hissing gas. I'm just not sure whether that works or not.

Before getting all negative let me say first that I really enjoyed the production. But its a rare day that I don't come away with a few gripes.

On a general note, I always have difficulty with those productions that try to create a "seedy" atmosphere in a theatre as plush as the Opera House... They all too often ignore the wider theatre space and try to pretend they are performing inside a plain black box, but this can be quite alienating for audiences. It is, however, one of the almost inevitable side-effects of a touring show. But a little bit of thought about some of the unique features of each venue, could make the "Cabaret" experience become much more alive.

Also some of the stylised staging just didn't work... What they were doing pushing ladders back and forward I will never know. There also seemed to be no rationale to the seemingly random use of large letters as props. But it is not inconceivable that I missed something.

Most of the performances were great. Wayne Sleep's Emcee was suitably creepy, and he had fun with the audience about his ability to dance with increasing years. However he had the diction of a dancer, and in certain places I was glad that the whole show was captioned. Samantha Barks had the unenviable task of playing the "Minnelli role": Sally Bowles. For those who don't remember (like myself) Samantha was third placed in last year's search for Nancy "I'll Do Anything..." The one thing she couldn't do however, was dance... She sang well, but her movement was less than alluring and she didn't really convey the emotional complexity required.

You see now why I wanted to be clear from the outset that I actually DID enjoy myself. But when you fork out a fortune for a ticket these days you want things to be just right... And don't get me started on the reliance of everyone these days on radio mics... We have a generation of actors and singers who couldn't fill a theatre with their voice without the aid of a 10,000 megawatt sound-system, and when 2 mics went down during one song on Saturday night, there was no attempt by the singers in question to raise the volume to try to accommodate.

But back to the beginning and my visual encounter with that girl's gluteus maximus. As the night went on I began to realise that the supposed permissive nature of Berlin in the Weimar Republic probably pales into insignificance with every day life in modern Britain. Where there not a couple of burlesque dancers on the supposedly family orientated "Britain's Got Talent"(of course with CGI Union Jacks suitably positioned)? And one of the tenets of "Cabaret" is to contrast the liberalism of Berlin's Cabaret culture, with the Nazism that came after.

And there is always a danger that the pendulum can swing from one to the other: from the repression of Cromwell's puritan republic to the permissiveness of the Restoration, and ultimately back to the prurience of Victorian England. At present we are in the the midst of one of the sexually most permissive, if not outright hedonistic periods in British social history.

And the church is not immune. Its moral theology currently seems to be guided by what will cause the least controversy rather than by what is the authentic will of God. Even dress-code on a Sunday has changed so radically that in one service that I attended recently, there was so much thigh and cleavage on display that it wouldn't have seemed out of place in Cabaret.

So what's next?

I don't want to be alarmist, but I don't like signs of the BNP gathering momentum, helped by the recent revelations regarding our honourable members. And there may well be a parallel conservative swing in churches too.

But there has to be a different option, a middle way between the hedonism of popular culture today, and the authoritarian approach of those on the right wing, between license and legalism. But it isn't an easy course to steer.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Reality of Diversity

You might have hoped that we had got back to reality by now. REAL reality not the virtual kind or the bizarre variety offered up on TV. Britain’s got Talent may be over for another year, but we’ve still got the denouement of the Apprentice this week, "Celebrity" Masterchef returns next week and on Friday Big Brother is crawling out from the stone it’s been hiding under.
I loathe Big Brother, and most other "reality" shows, although I am a big Apprentice fan and got sucked into BGT this year, but with all of these attention hungry behemoths, there is a tendency to get things totally out of proportion. Last week, in the run up to the final of BGT, despite plenty of other news to report, we had headlines about Susan Boyle cracking under the pressure (which sadly seem to have come true), while the tears of one (undeserving) child finalist prompted much wasted airtime about the cruelty of putting children in for such competitions. We need to get a grip… It’s ONLY a TV talent show. An Opportunity Knocks for the noughties. A Gong show with added buzzers and pizzazz.
But then, how can someone from Northern Ireland lecture others on keeping things in proportion. People could easily say to us that Rangers v Celtic is ONLY a football game… But last week, Bill Shankly’s tongue in cheek comment about football being more important than life and death came true again with the death of Kevin McDaid. Whatever the European elections bring this week, we need to put the politics of division behind us. We need to see greater efforts at eradicating the evil of sectarianism in our midst, that only needs the wrong football result to set it alight…

Ironically Britain’s Got Talent may offer us hope. Contrast the mob of young people who attacked Mr. McDaid because he was different from them, with those who danced their way to victory in that competition: Diversity.
We’ve got to stop fearing and attacking difference here, and embrace the diversity around us… Accept that others support different football teams, follow different political parties and have different national loyalties. Embrace those of different faiths, cultures and languages. And use the diverse gifts that God has given us to make this a richer, fuller, more mature society.
I wonder how many people watching Britain’s Got Talent knew they were using a Biblical term…
For those who don't know, a talent was an ancient measure of weight and hence money that made its way into the English language because of the translation of a story that Jesus told, about servants using their "talents" wisely…
Not only Britain has Got Talent, but so has Northern Ireland… a vast array of diverse, God given talents… Let’s celebrate them as we use them for the benefit of all who live here.
This is an adaptation of my final Sunday review for Downtown Radio's "Dawn Reflections". I (together with the other religious advisors) have been "credit crunched."
ps. Personally I wanted Stavros Flatley to win BGT, but Diversity will do at a pinch...