Couldn't have said it better myself...

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

Anais Nin

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

New? Life Transforming? Bible-Reading?

Among the huge pile of sludge fiction I took with me on holiday this year, were 2 or 3 books I wouldn't be embarrassed being seen to be reading by anyone who actually knows me. One was this offering by Richard Foster, chosen by our church book group as their summer reading.

However, whilst I am not one to judge a book by its cover, two things annoyed me with this book before I opened it. First was the fact that the author's name is printed bigger than the title. This, to me, speaks of the alarming trend in Christian literature, as in the rest of contemporary literary culture, to treat respected authors as brand names to be exploited to the full, resulting in some very poor books being released under such brands. This feeling was further enhanced when I noticed that this particular book was written 'with' Kathryn A. Helmers, although to notice this you had to look very carefully as her name is less than a 12th the size of Foster's and in a much lighter type, indicative, I suppose of her relative reputation and selling power, if not her contribution to the final product. (Indeed I notice in the picture of the book which I have posted here, her name does not appear at all.)
The second thing that irked me, however, was the sub-title, which was in a bolder type than the title itself: 'A life-transforming new approach to Bible reading'. Clearly I am not the intended audience for such hyperbole, because my thran approach to such a claim normally would be to run a million miles rather than buy the book, much less read it. Others whom I respect, however, had highly recommended it, and our church book group had chosen it for our summer reading, so I overcame my annoyance at the front cover and delved in to the pages within.
What I discovered there, however was not accurately reflected in the sub-title.
It is not entirely, or indeed primarily an approach to Bible reading, but rather Foster returning again to his main area of expertise, that of spiritual disciplines, but this time using Bible reading as the through line to understand the other disciplines . He did something similar with his book 'Prayer' some years ago, using the discipline of the title as the lens through which to view the other ones. I suppose his publishers must rub their hands in glee at the thought of a whole string of books in which Foster uses each of the disciplines he originally celebrated to help understand the others. However, there may be a law of diminishing returns in such an endeavour, as readers get weary of the repetition, especially now that he has already used the two more readily undestood disciplines of prayer and Bible reading.
The claim that he offers a new approach to Bible reading is also nonsense. What he does do is offer to a readership that has never heard of it before (because it has not had an STL-backed big brand author endorsing it previously), the centuries-old appoach of lectio divina. This ancient monastic approach to scripture has been very much in vogue over the past few decades thanks to writers like Nouwen and Merton. But Foster is to those two as Primark is to Versace and Chanel, making their thinking more easily accessible to the person in the pew if not the street, and that is no bad thing. He does not fall into the trap of some other populist theological writers of trying to offer, as the sub-title seems to suggest he does, a ready-made programme for reading the Bible more effectively. In fact he sensibly warns against programmatic approaches to spiritual development.

He makes a passing reference to the so-called 'Wesleyan-Quadrilateral', first referred to by Albert Outler in the 1960s, to describe the role of scripture, tradition, reason and experience in the thinking of John Wesley. However, Foster, like many others before him (and who could blame him as a Quaker when so many Methodists have made the same mistake), forgets that Outler referred to this quadrilateral in contrast to the Anglican triangle, or three-legged stool that Wesley grew up with, of scripture, tradition and reason. The role of personal experience (particularly experience of the Holy Spirit) was vital in John Wesley's understanding of how we comprehend the will of God. But Outler was not suggesting that Wesley saw the four axes of the quadrilateral as equal. Rather that tradition, reason and experience are 3 windows which shed light on the key revelation of God's will in scripture. Foster never states this explicitly in the book with regard to Outler's Wesleyan-Quadrilateral, although it is implicit to his own entire approach to scripture. Also implicit to that approach, though only sketchily outlined is viewing all of scripture through the lens of the life, teaching, death resurrection of Christ.
I was pleased to see, that he warns against the intensely individualistic reading of scripture which has become more prevalent since the advent of printing, and achieving its zenith (or nadir depending on your attitude) in evangelicalism. The community that God has placed us in with its inherited tradition as well as its collective experience and reason is vital to a true reading, or hearing of scripture.
He does include a beginners guide to the various categories of literature within scripture, and this was one of the few areas where, I believe, he gets things wrong. In dealing with the Old Testament scriptures he tends to follow the schemata beloved of old style Sunday schools of Law, History, Wisdom and Prophecy. Instead I would argue that we should learn from the categorisation employed within Jewish tradition of Law (1st 5 books), Prophets (Judges-2nd Kings, and what we recognise as prophets, ie. Isaiah-Malachi) and Writings (ie. everything else). This places all the theological reflection of the Old Testament within the context of story, if not history as we know it, and offers an interesting parallel between the Old and New Testaments of Law//Gospels (and perhaps Acts), Prophecy//Letters (with both more interested in forthtelling in response to contemporary problems than foretelling future event) and Writings // Revelation and perhaps James (both of which owe a great deal to the Old Testament Wisdom tradition).
But that's just my opinion, and I'm not a big brand author and am never likely to be. However, my other frustration with the book is where, in his concluding section on the key principle grace whole sections referring to Bonhoeffer, Mother Teresa and Babette's feast might well have been direct quotes in their entirety from the magnum opus of that other big brand writer Philip Yancey. Whilst "What's So Amazing About Grace?" is almost seminal on the subject now, Foster should at least have acknowledged that he was covering the same ground, if not, preferably, finding alternative illustrations. There remains the possibility that he hasn't actually read Yancey's book (I once was nearly kicked out of university for plagiarism because I unwittingly used a similar extended metaphor to one used by the great Richard Dawkins in a TV documentary, when describing the process of recprocal altruism... so it can happen to anyone), but I doubt it.
However, all that said, if any of us were to take this book seriously then the sub-title is at least right in that it is potentially life changing.
I'll let you know how it goes.
ps. Apologies to those on facebook who have me as a friend... This 'review' will pop up as a note by me as well as having appeared some time ago in a truncated form as a review on Living Social... Life is too short for me to post significantly different reviews in 2 different places.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Toleration of the Intolerant


Managed to turn up for my live radio slot on Downtown yesterday morning without my pre-prepared "Review of the Week"... Ooops... so I had to quickly write it from memory... and given that this was at 7am, even with an extra hour in bed it was a miracle that I wrote anything vaguely coherent...

Here is an amalgam of the pre-prepared script and my improvised one...

Should we show tolerance to the intolerant? Should we afford the full rights of a democratic society to a party, which, if they gained power even for a nanosecond, would completely overturn that democracy, in the same way that the Nazi Party did in Germany in the 1930s? Were the BBC influenced by their respect for the 1,000,000 people who voted for the BNP in the recent European elections, or by the thought of the extra 4,000,000 viewers they were likely to get for Question Time by stirring up a media storm around it? And did Nick Griffin's subsequent appearance reveal him to be the "squalid racist" and a "21st Century pipsqueak heir to Hitler and Mosley" as former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey claimed, or did he come across as the pluck advocate of "Christian Britain" thrown into the modern day equivalent of the lions' den, the media circus where the mouthpieces of modern multi-cultural Britain were lying in wait like a lynch mob.
These and many other questions have been rolling around in my mind this week regarding the appearance of Nick Griffin on Question Time. In the end I didn’t see it because I had something more important to do that evening… but given the amount of coverage that it has received before and since I feel as if I did… and that frustrates me, because it shows how our priorities can be seriously skewed by the agendas of small numbers of people fuelled by hatred and bigotry… and how the policy of government and other public bodies can be derailed by having to kowtow to whatever the media decides is the issue that will gain them most viewers or sell the most papers.
I am not saying that if you ignore bigots and racists they will go away… far from it… there are times when you must stand up, speak out and counter those who stoke up suspicion and peddle half truths that promote hatred and division. But you have to be careful how you engage them and how much oxygen or legitimacy you give them.
Simply to say that because they have passed a certain arbitrary electoral threshold that entitles them to certain political rights is naive to say the least. Just because people vote for you, doesn’t mean you are right. Right and wrong are not decided by a political poll. Even what the majority says is not always right, any more than the loudest voice is the one that should be listened to. Justice… real justice, is not swayed by public opinion. Which is why the Kingdom of God is a kingdom and not a liberal democracy. A kingdom where God's word is the final word, but also a kingdom whose borders are wide open to whoever will come. A kingdom open to people of all races, nations and denominations: all cultures, creeds and colours, to all ages, stages and genders, and people of all political, theological and sexual preference.
All are invited to become citizens of God's Kingdom…
ps. Yesterday's News of the World also revealled that the Queen has "declared war on the BNP". First the generals who led the British Army, then the former Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the national church, now the head of State... But what would any of them know about being British!?

pps. Following on from Lord Carey's refutation of the BNP's Christian credentials the Evangelical Alliance has released a statement saying that the BNP doesn't speak for British Christians... That of course isn't to say that EA speaks for all Christians either, but I'm certainly right behind them on this one. This in turn has sparked a facebook campaign so if you are unsure about how you might be able to vent your frustration and demonstrate your opposition to the BNP, if you are a devotee of fb then perhaps this is a small way of doing so...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Wise and Not So Wise Builders

A sketch for children requiring 2 readers, 2 builders, 4 children acting as “walls” for the wise builders house, all the same size with small umbrellas, 4 “walls” for the not so wise builders house, of various sizes with napkins, 2-4 children acting as “rainclouds” armed with water pistols.
Reader 1: There was once a wise builder…
Builder 1: Good morning!
Reader 2: And a not so wise builder
Builder 2: Bout ye!
Reader 1: And one day
Reader 2: Both of them decided to build a house
Reader 1: The wise builder studied the plans
Reader 2: Tested the ground carefully
Reader 1: And dug the foundations deep down on to solid rock
Reader 2: He built slowly and carefully with the best of materials
Reader 1: Because he wanted his house to last
Reader 2: Meanwhile the not so wise builder
Reader 1: Got started as quickly as he could
Reader 2: He built his house on a nice level piece of sandy ground
Reader 1: And he used anything he could get his hands on
Reader 2: So he could get finished as soon as possible
Reader 1: Eventually both houses were finished
Reader 2: And the builders moved in
Reader 1: And lived happily ever after
Reader 2: Until one day
Reader 1: The rainclouds came
Reader 2: And didn’t go away
Reader 1: And it rained (Raincloud 1 squirts congregation)
Reader 2: And it rained (Raincloud 2 squirts congregation)
Reader 1: And it rained (Raincloud 3 squirts congregation)
Reader 2: And it rained (Raincloud 4 squirts congregation)
Reader 1: The wise builder looked out at the rain from his nice dry house
(Two of the rainclouds squirt the wise builder’s house. The “walls” put up their umbrellas)
Reader 2: While the not so wise builder didn’t need to look out at the rain
(Two of the rainclouds squirt the not so wise builder’s house. The “walls” pull the paper napkins out of their pockets and hold them over their heads)
Reader 1: Because the rain was falling inside his house
Reader 2: The rain fell on both houses
Reader 1: But while the wise builder stayed dry
Reader 2: The not so wise builder got very
Reader 1: Very
Reader 2: Wet.
Reader 1: the rain fell
Reader 2: the floods rose
Reader 1: and the winds blew until
Reader 2: the not so wise builders’ house fell down. (all the "walls" of the not so wise builder's house collapse)
Reader 1: Jesus said:
Reader 2: Everyone who hears my words and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.
Reader 1: The rains may come,
Reader 2: the streams may rise,
Reader 1: and the winds may blow and beat against that house;
Reader 2: But it will not fall
Reader 1: But everyone who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.
Reader 2: The rains will come,
Reader 1: the streams will rise,
Reader 2: and the winds will blow and beat against that house;
Reader 1: But it will fall
Reader 2: With a great big
All: Crash!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Brief overview of the Bible

Actually posted this almost a year ago, and was planning on using it this Sunday... however, can't seem to find a way of downloading it... Any ideas?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Psalm for Bible Sunday

The Bible Society has ordained that this Sunday is "Bible Sunday". Don't know what was wrong with the old tradition of having it on the second Sunday of Advent, apart from the fact that with everything else in Advent it gets swamped by the approaching behemoth that is the modern Christmas. But anyway, for those celebrating it this weekend, over the next couple of days I'll be posting various resources we are using this weekend... Here's a responsive psalm to start with:

The law of the Lord is perfect, strengthening the soul.
The promises of the Lord are trustworthy, offering insight to all.
The signposts of the Lord are straightforward, bringing joy to life.
The commands of the Lord are clear, giving light to walk by.
The fear of the Lord is right and good, enduring for ever.
The decisions of the Lord are sure and altogether unquestionable.
His word is more precious than gold,
than a bank vault full of gold;
His word is sweeter than strawberries in summer,
Tastier than ripe red strawberries
God’s word warns us when we’re on dangerous ground
And directs us to hidden treasures.
What man can spot his own mistakes?
What woman can tell when she is fooling herself?
Father, forgive my hidden faults.
Lord, keep your servant from deliberate error.
May my sins not rule over me
So I will be blameless before you.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my mind be pleasing in your sight,
O Lord, my Rock and my Rescuer. AMEN

From Psalm 19

tipping the hat to Eugene Peterson for a line or two...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Real Talent

I wonder what Simon Cowell would make of this?
Being a little under the weather over the weekend I ended up watching the nonsense that is "The X Factor" and remembered again why I loathe these programmes... What passes for talent in Britain's pop culture these days is so mass-manufactured and over-produced that it has no real depth or authentic poignancy. That is occasionally subverted in the auditions and more frequently in "Britain's Got Talent" but in both, the genuinely talented is more than swamped by those who are simply wanting to ape other artificially produced celebrities and those who are more to be pitied than scolded.
The following entry from "Ukraine's Got Talent" would never make it within a million miles of its British equivalent because of form, subject matter and, most importantly, its length ("Sorry dear, it has to be less than 3 minutes...")...
It's long even by the standards of most of the things I post here... but it is worth every second spent watching it...
The artist is Kseniya Simonova and in this she depicts the Soviet Union's ‘Great Patriotic War’ against the Nazis in the 1940’s.

Thanks to Jonny McEwan and Pete Rollins for flagging it up... How they came across it I do not know... I would have to be very ill before I started scanning the satelite channels and the internet for "Ukraine's Got Talent"!

Monday, October 19, 2009

That's Entertainment...

As promised I am returning to the "Top 10" format again... this time my favourite cinema musicals... I know that making such a list immediately casts my masculinity into doubt, but who cares. As with my previous list there's a house rule... no animations, or partial animations (I feel another list coming on), which excludes Mary Poppins (which might have been excluded on the grounds of Dick van Dyke's accent anyway)... But that said here's my choice for what it is worth:

1) Singing in the Rain: It's funny, the dance routines are amazing, the songs are memorable, and it takes a huge rise out of the movie industry. What's not to like?

2) High Society: Take a great film like the Philadelphia Story, add some great songs and a wonderful cast, and you got jazz!

3) West Side Story: The only version of Romeo and Juliet I like (despite being a huge Shakespeare fan)... A superb score and book, great dancing and a grittiness that was unseen in musicals up to that point. Brilliant.

4) Calamity Jane: Not exactly an accurate record of the lives of Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickock, if it doesn't leave you with a smile on your face you need serious pharmacological assistance.

5) Chicago: A great modern musical, using the artifice of the show as the thread holding the film together. All the main characters are superb, the score, lyrics and choreography brilliant.

6) Cabaret: Strangely one where I prefer the stage version to the film, except for the compelling Liza Minnelli and creepy Joel Grey. Whilst Fosse's choreography is superb, a lot of the edginess of the stage show is fudged in the film.

7) Grease: A great, nostalgic feel-good movie with a great soundtrack and Olivia Newton John. What more need I say?

8) My Fair Lady: A great musical with a great cast based on a great play... with a lead actor who can't sing a note, yet is perfectly cast.

9) Fiddler on the Roof: One of the most poignant and powerful of musicals if a little long. Topol made the part of Tevye irretrievably his own.

10) Sound of Music: I'm not one of those who knows every word, but this show's ability to weave together music and romance against the background of the Nazi occupation of Austria, without producing gales of laughter, is no mean feat.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Top Ten Funnies

The Radio Times and the BBC, in an exercise in cheap TV have resorted to that old perennial of "Top 10..." in this case the Top 10 Comedy films of all time. First they compiled their top 100 then asked readers/viewers to vote for their favourites... The results can be found here... But it got me thinking about my top 10, and why. In order to thin them out I imposed a few rules over and above those imposed by the Radio Times list

a) No Musicals... even though many of them may be funnier than the others on the list (eg. High Society or Singing in the Rain)... I might do a top 10 musicals when I'm bored some time.

b) No Animated Features... as above.

c) As few as possible by any one writer/director, leading to the impossible choice between Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles and The Producers, or Life of Brian and Holy Grail.

d) Nothing with Ben Stiller in it or Judd Apatow directing... like any of them were going to feature anyway!

By the way, if you are expecting any perceptive, sociological or theological reflections on these films go check out Gareth Higgins blog... This is just a bit of fun... But I would be interested in your selections...

1) The Producers: the original non-musical version with Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. Nearly laughed myself sick at the "Springtime for Hitler" number... For it comes out top of all and so "Young Frankenstein" and "Blazing Saddles" don't feature at all which I'll admit is a travesty.

2) Monty Python and the Holy Grail: completely insane and just displaces "The Life of Brian" in my book, not because of any quibbles re the latter's blasphemy (which is nonsense) but simply because I think Holy Grail is marginally funnier.

3) Gregory's Girl: A perfect evocation of the awkwardness of being a teenage boy. Bill Forsythe has never done better.

4) Groundhog Day: Ramis and Murray at their best as director and actor respectively. So wonderful even Andi McDowell couldn't spoil it.

5) Kind Hearts and Coronets: Not so much black and white, as gloriously black British comedy.

6) Some Like it Hot: Marilyn Munroe shows herself to be a wonderful comic actress under Billy Wilder's deft direction, with superb performances by Curtis and Lemmon, and the finest closing line of any film.
7) Duck Soup: The Marx Brothers at their anarchic best.

8) Carry on Screaming: Carry on films are one of my guilty secrets... and this (or Cleo) has to be the sharpest of these cinematic equivalents of the saucy seaside postcard.

9) Airplane: the original, and best over the top movie spoof.

10) When Harry Met Sally: the original, and best of that dreaded genre - "RomCom..."

What do you think? Am I a complete philistine for missing out Woody Allen? Have I had a sense of humour bypass for omitting Steve Martin? Am I unpatriotic for omitting any Richard Curtis movie?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Dishonourable Members

Over the past year MPs and public representatives in general have taken a bit of a hammering for their acquisitiveness, racking up huge and unjustifiable expenses claims while so many people are feeling the pressures of the credit crunch. And the attempts of some MPs to resist the findings of Sir Thomas Legge's enquiry will not endear them to the public at large, particularly after a few weeks of party conferences where they have cheered to the rafters various proposals to put the squeeze on public sector workers and those claiming benefits...
But whatever claims for moat-cleaning or multiple-homes have occurred, most of them pale into insignificance when compared with the selfishness of John Ward MP who, many, many years ago, owned a large part of Dagenham. When he died, among his papers there was said to be found the following prayer which he had written.

“0 Lord, Thou knowest I have mine estates in the City of London, and likewise that I have lately purchased an estate in fee-simple in the County of Essex. I beseech Thee to preserve the two counties of Middlesex and Essex from fire and earthquake, and, as I have a mortgage in Hertfordshire, I beg of Thee likewise to have an eye of compassion on that county; for the rest of the counties, Thou mayest deal with them as Thou art pleased. . .”
Typical, we may say… "So long as I'm alright, God, the Devil take the rest..." But hold on… We may laugh at the selfishness of John Ward’s prayer, but let us beware of the selfish shopping lists that we sometimes present to God in prayer. And whilst we may disapprove of the outlandish expenses claimed by MPs let us beware of condemning them yet ignoring the times when we have been a little flexible with our expenses claimed or in our tax returns.
Our actions and prayers may not be open to public scrutiny, but the same God who hears our prayers knows our hearts.

This is an adaptation of a "Just a Moment" broadcast on Downtown Radio on Thursday 8th October, 2009.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


Today we're having our harvest services, as many churches are, but like many urban churches it is often a little surreal, as our church sanctuary becomes transformed, for one day only, into a giant greengrocer's shop. That isn't happening in our own church this year as we have asked members of our congregation to either support the Belfast Vineyard Church's "Storehouse" programme by bringing along unperishable foodstuffs, or to support our "Nets for Nets" Fundraiser with financial donations, to help purchase mosquito nets for Zambia. This has caused a little disquiet among some of our older members, particularly those with a farming connection, as it won't quit seem like a proper harvest service for them...

But if harvest services were to truly reflect the nature of farming in Northern Ireland these days, the piles of fruit and veg at the front would be largely supplanted by large plastic wrapped bales of silaged grass!

Increasingly though, those of us not living, working and worshipping in a rural environment have no real understanding of the importance of harvest and the sense of relief that comes with a harvest "safely gathered in." We take for granted the fact that we can get fruit and vegetables from our supermarket shelves 24/7 all year round, in season and out of season. It's one of the joys of a global market. New Zealand strawberries in December - no problem! Brussels Sprouts from Bylorussia in August - straight away!

One year, when I was attending a church in inner city Edinburgh, they managed to forget the harvest services - and the thing is, no-one noticed.

We are sadly out of tune with the natural world; out of time in relation to the rhythm of the seasons. That is one of the reasons our environment is in such a mess.

But harvest services are not just a matter of giving thanks for a local harvest safely gathered in, but for the very fact of harvest... and we should not restrict ourselves to one Sunday in the year for such thanksgiving, but should live our lives in thankfulness to the God who gives all good gifts.

But this day may we give thanks for the fact of harvest, recommit ourselves to share God's good gifts more fairly, and take care of this wonderful world that he has entrusted to our stewardship.

This is an adaptation of a "Just a Moment" written for Downtown Radio, broadcast on Friday 9th October 2009.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Peace in our Time?


Over the past 4 weeks, each Tuesday morning a significant proportion of Northern Ireland has had the unfortunate experience of waking up to my dulcet tones (with the notable exception of our own house where, mysteriously one Tuesday the clock radio reset itself to Radio 4 and I awoke to the much more appealling and perceptive words of Joel Edwards). Over those weeks I've been pondering on various anniversaries (I think it's a function of my time of life)... my own 20th wedding anniversary, the 40th anniversary of our local church, the 30th anniversary of Pope JP2's visit to Ireland, and finally, last Tuesday, the 30th anniversary of the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the Dalai Lama...

But that was before the bombshell of this year's Peace Prize announcement. Now many already know that I lean towards Obama politically, but I'm not convinced... Many suggest that he is effectively recieving it as a reward for not being George W. Bush... others suggest that is simplistic and patronising and that if nothing else he deserves it as the first African-American incumbent of the White House... which frankly strikes me as a whole lot more patronising. Others consider it as an encouragement to Obama, his team and the US in general to keep heading in the right direction, but given that the right wing in the US regard Europeans in general and peace organisations in particular as deeply suspicious, this will not win Obama much support back home.

Ruth Gledhill suggests that we may as well award the Strictly Come Dancing award to Obama as the Nobel Peace Prize, and there is a certain extent to which she could be right. I want to see the US use its global authority as a peacemaker; but that needs to be peace in its fullest sense, that is peace with justice, not simply an imposed peace... Pax Americana taking the place of the Pax Britannica or Pax Romana of previous imperial powers... And for that to be the case it cannot simply flow from the barrel of a gun. The fact that Samuel Colt's famous 45 revolver was known as the "Peacemaker" deeply inhabits the American psyche, and, through the magic of cinema, has been woven into the mythology of the western world... But the peace that such weapons brought about then and now, was the peace of "Boot Hill" and should never be lauded by Mr Nobel's successors.

But as well as public peace there is also the issue of personal peace, which is often hard to track down. And that is what I was reflecting on in this week's Thought for the Day, below in its amended text form. Strangely it isn't available on BBC's iPlayer... I hope that isn't due to anything I said! The lawyers haven't been in touch... yet...

30 years ago on Tuesday, the Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and it is one of my few claims to fame that I actually met him. That was when he visited Belfast in October 2000, and I hosted a meeting for church and community workers at Forthspring Inter-Community Group where he spoke… The sad thing is that I remember so little about the whole event or what he said. It all went by in a haze… My wife was expecting our second child in less than a week, and because her first birth had been particularly traumatic I was more than a little anxious on that point… Then I had been negotiating with local community leaders, paramilitaries and police on either side of the peaceline for weeks beforehand to make arrangements for the visit of the Dalai Lama and everything had looked like unravelling on the eve of the event… But after a Iot of phone calls through the night and some straight talking on the streets, the whole thing went ahead.
All the people present were delighted… while I was simply delighted that it was over and hadn’t been a complete disaster. Indeed I was feeling so grotty that I had to go to the doctor to get checked out… only to be told that I had become diabetic… The Doctor explained that while stress doesn’t cause diabetes it can sometimes be the final straw…
So, occasionally I make the outrageous claim that the Dalai Lama made me a diabetic…
But I do find it ironic that there he was, a Nobel peace prize winner, and peace was a million miles from my heart and mind… I had allowed it to become the most frenetic and fraught few weeks of my life.
Jesus told his disciples, in preparation for the most traumatic days of their lives, with his upcoming arrest and execution, that he had come to bring peace… a peace that this world can never offer…
A peace that it not the absence of trouble but a peace that sustains us in the face of trouble… even when a peace prize winner comes to town.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Think on Such Things...

Last night something happened to me that, thankfully, rarely does... After a couple of hours of fitful sleep I woke up around 3 am and could not get back to sleep. As a rule I don't get a lot of sleep, but that is usually due to working into the wee small hours and then the rest of the world expecting me to function within the usual hours of 9-5. But normally when my head hits the pillow I sleep the sleep of, if not the just, then the sleep of the just exhausted...
I don't know what caused last night's anomally... whether it is a side effect of the flu jab I had a few days ago, another bug at work on me, or some sub-conscious anxiety (although the last is very unlikely as most of my anxieties are very conscious...) But no matter what I did I couldn't get back to sleep for ages... the time dragged and my mind was filled with all the things that I really didn't want to think about in the middle of the night... various pieces of work I've got to do... pastoral issues... health problems... financial pressures... Robbie William's annoyingly memorable "Bodies..." Eventually my tossing and turning woke my wife, who, whilst she is normally grace personified, is usually not to be trifled with in the middle of the night. I suggested that I would go to the spare room, but, as we, in a fit of not atypical incompetence managed to run out of oil last night, she allowed me to stay in the marital bed... she even allowed me to turn the light on to read, after she had donned one of the masks that we brought back from some transatlantic flight or other.

I read two things... first a large portion of one of the books I'm reading at the moment Alex Boese's "Elephants on Acid" - which records some totally bizarre scientific experiments. The section that I read last night included an experiment where participants were asked to verbalise their thoughts... then after a period of time were asked to try to avoid thinking about a white bear, and ring a bell every time they did so... Of course, despite a white bear never having entered their thoughts before, after having been instructed not to think of such a thing, they could think of little else and were soon ringing the bell like Quasimodo on speed.

Conclusion of experiment: Simply try to suppress oppressive thoughts and they will overwhelm you.

Then I turned to my Bible and read:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:6-9 (ANIV)

I would love to say piously that I then switched the light out and drifted off into a deep and peaceful sleep after pondering all that is noble, right, pure, lovely admirable, excellent and praiseworthy.

But I didn't... exhausted I drifted back into a fitful sleep with dreams of white bears moving to a background soundtrack of Robbie Williams "Bodies"!!!!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Jesus, Robbie Williams and Gok Wan

A couple of days ago, Terry Wogan, in the midst of his early morning witterings, played Robbie William's latest ditty, "Bodies", asking after it had finished "has Robbie got religion?" A few moments before, Owain, my teenage son, had asked a another question: "What on earth is he on about?" I'm not sure about the answer to either question... Even less so after looking at the lyrics below for longer than I should have...

The words are all there: God, Jesus, died for me, save me, perfection, rapture... Assembled in a different order they would be perfectly at home in a revivalist tent-meeting... (Although the reference to a Bodhi Tree clearly owes more to Eastern religion/new-age pick and mix spirituality)

But what's all this stuff about looking good naked? That certainly owes more to Gok Wan than the gospel, although it may be an easy summation of what the gospel is up against in modern western culture. If the big questions that others are asking are of the order of "how do I look good naked?" (not a question I have wrestled with personally or in my preaching) then perhaps the church is actually answering questions that no-one is asking...

But that is probably reading far too much into this piece of pop pap... The problem is, it is annoyingly memorable, "an ear worm" as my youngest son Ciaran calls it.

If only the sermons that use the words God, Jesus, died for me, save me, perfection and rapture, were as memorable... and made as much sense!

(If anyone would like to offer a coherent exegesis of this "text" please feel free to comment)

God gave me the sunshine,
Then showed me my lifeline
I was told it was all mine,
Then I got laid on a ley line
What a day, what a day,
And your Jesus really died for me
Then Jesus really tried for me

UK and entropy,
I feel like its s****in’ me
Wanna feed off the energy,
Love living like a deity
What a day, one day,
And your Jesus really died for me
I guess Jesus really tried for me
Bodies in the Bodhi tree,
Bodies making chemistry
Bodies on my family,
Bodies in the way of me
Bodies in the cemetery,
And that’s the way it’s gonna be
All we’ve ever wanted
Is to look good naked
Hope that someone can take it
God save me rejection
From my reflection,
I want perfection

Praying for the rapture,
‘Cause it’s stranger getting stranger
And everything’s contagious
It’s the modern middle ages
All day every day
And if Jesus really died for me
Then Jesus really tried for me
Bodies in the Bodhi tree,
Bodies making chemistry
Bodies on my family,
Bodies in the way of me
Bodies in the cemetery,
And that’s the way it’s gonna be

All we’ve ever wanted
Is to look good naked
Hope that someone can take it
God save me rejection
From my reflection,
I want perfection

Bodies in the Bodhi tree,
Bodies making chemistry
Bodies on my family,
Bodies in the way of me
Bodies in the cemetery,
And that’s the way it’s gonna be

Bodies in the Bodhi tree,
Bodies making chemistry
Bodies on my family,
Bodies in the way of me
Bodies in the cemetery,
And that’s the way it’s gonna be

All we’ve ever wanted
Is to look good naked
Hope that someone can take it
So God save me rejection
From my reflection,
I want perfection
Jesus didn’t die for you, what do you want?(I want perfection)
Jesus didn’t die for you, what are you on?Oh Lord(Jesus really died for you)
Ohh(Jesus really died for you)
(Jesus really died for you) Ohh