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Showing posts from December, 2009

Have they ever read the story of the Nativity?

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I was alerted to this via Ruth Gledhill's column on Christmas Eve and I thought for a moment that it was a spoof, but it is not and is proof-positive that the UK Border Agency is an irony (and perhaps compassion) free zone... Just check out the words that make up the tree... Those are just the sort of things you want to celebrate at Christmas... But it makes the perfect illustration for a short piece that I have written for this morning on Downtown radio.



The story continues… and we come to another episode that you rarely see in Primary School Nativity plays… Jesus, Mary and Joseph the refugees in Egypt…
Lets give thanks that Egypt didn’t have the same border controls as we have… If they did then Jesus and his parents may have been sent back to the tender loving care of Herod and his regime… Or locked away in a secure institution like those children of refugees and asylum seekers who were refused a visit from Saint Nicholas at the beginning of December… Or reduced to begging on the …

Herod the Not So Great

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Herod the Great is a fascinating character… he was the part I always wanted to play in the church Nativity play when I was a child… Others wanted to be shepherds or wise men… But I wanted to be the villain of the piece…
And what a villain… We don’t read a great deal about him in scripture, but what we read is pretty unpleasant… There is actually no record outside the Bible of a massacre of children ordered by Herod, but it is certainly in keeping with what we do know of him: an insecure and ruthless King who murdered most of his own family and many other rivals for the throne.
But his end was particularly unpleasant… For fear that those of a delicate disposition might be reading I don't want to go into details, but it did involve worms and maggots where no man would want them to be…
Many saw the extreme unpleasantness of his demise as a sign of God’s judgement, but there are many equally ruthless people who have never experienced earthly punishment… Indeed it sometimes seems that th…

An Uncomfortable Feast

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Today is for most people in Britain the Boxing Day public holiday, deferred from the day after Christmas by the intervening weekend, but on the churches calendar it is the so called “feast of the Holy Innocents.”
The massacre of the infant boys of Bethlehem on the orders of Herod the Great may seem an inappropriate cause for feasting… but it reflects the ancient teaching that, in effect, those children were, unwittingly, the first Christian martyrs… But it is a part of the story of Christmas that is quickly glossed over today. There are few carols that refer to it, and it rarely gets a dramatic re-enactment in the nativity play… if it did then we would have to put an over 18 certificate on it (actually there is a very funny scene depicting this episode in the recent movie "Nativity" that I wrote about last week... but I hope I never see the same in our local Primary School).
But meanwhile, as we continue to feast on the leftovers from Friday, the massacre of the innocents goes…

An Unusual Cast List

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If the religious elite of the day had written the script for Jesus’ birth, he would have been born to a respectable married couple (either Pharisee or Sadducee depending on which brand of religion you asked); he would probably have still been born in Bethlehem, because that was in keeping with the prophecies, but he would have had a proper cradle to lie in rather than a manger.
And the first visitors would NOT have been shepherds… I mean, everyone knew that shepherds were ritually unclean and low down the social pecking order… So what if Jesus’ ancestor David had been a shepherd… God had raised him above all that…
And as for the Magi… There is no way that foreign, pagan astrologers would have been allowed within a mile of the Jewish Messiah.
But are we any better? How quick are we to judge children by their social background? Make assumptions about people because of their jobs? Lump people together according to stereotypes of race and religion. Or presume that because Jesus is the Way th…

Silent Night

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A little something for Christmas Eve, courtesy of Duke Special, Foy Vance and the Salvation Army Band.



Happy Christmas.
Probably won't be around for a day or two... small matter of a service and a turkey to take care of... Shalom

A Bleak Midwinter...

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In the bleak mid-winter, frosty wind made moan…
That’s the first line of one of the most loved (indeed it managed to make it TWICE into the list of the nation's top five favourite carols this week), yet probably most inaccurate Christmas carols in the English language… Snow probably did not fall, snow on snow, snow on snow on snow on the first Christmas in Bethlehem… But it has certainly fallen in England and western Europe over the past few days, messing up people’s travel plans… particularly those who had booked to travel on Eurostar… Including some who had transferred to train from British Airways flights because of a threatened strike, which was subsequently ruled illegal. Others have been stranded abroad or had their Christmas holidays cancelled because of budget airline Globespan being put into administration and the Allbury Travel Group going under… Indeed it is almost as if Christmas itself has been cancelled for Globespan employees, some of whom not only don’t know how the…

Nativity 2009

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Life is a little busy at the moment... hence the paucity of posts. On Friday it was so busy that my wife and I drew lots to decide who would go to the local primary school's Nativity play... I won... And so I went, a little reluctantly to see again that familiar story...
Yet an hour later I left refreshed and renewed for all that I had to do throughout that day... It was a relatively traditional rendering of the subject matter, all be it with modern music and no "Away in a Manger..." Every child in the room was dressed appropriately... Girls as angels (some complete with feathered wings), and boys as shepherds (as the headmaster said, there would be no dishes dried in Ballybeen that morning because every dishcloth was in Brooklands Primary School, adorning the heads of the shepherds) and they sang all the songs with great gusto. The "star" performers all carried off their parts with great confidence (although paradoxically Herod was a little hesitant), and some …

Christmas Gift Ideas No 4: The Sweet Baby Jesus

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OK, we're now lurching into strange weird and bizarre territory now... Baby Jesus cookie cutter anyone? "The little Lord Jesus no crying he makes..." Not even when you bite his head off. When Jesus later said "this is my body... eat it in rememberance of me..." it was certainly not with this in mind. I am reliably informed that there is a whole Nativity Cookie set out there, but I am not sure that is any less disturbing... Anyone want a Virgin Mary and coffee?


Cheers

Christmas Gift Ideas No 3: Putting Santa in his Place

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Now I'm not one of the "Have you not noticed that Santa is an anagram of Satan"-brigade, indeed, I have donned the red suit and beard on more than one occasion (terrifying numerous kids in the process), but we must keep Santa in his proper place mustn't we! And that place clearly is in a very tasteful tree decoration which shows him bowing the knee before the Baby Jesus... Everyone say "Ah!"




Cheers

The Law of Least Love

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Those who are patched in to Living Social/Facebook may well know that last week I had the misfortune of watching that execrable Matthew McConaghey rom-com "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past." I won't go into the reasons why I ended up watching it here. There is no excuse that can remove the shame and disgrace of it all...
It really was the nadir of creative cinema. A shallow, predictable reworking of Charles Dicken's Christmas Carol, with Christmas taken out and replaced with "love/relationships" as the core theme (they kept the snow though!) It might be interesting to contrast this reworking with the Zemeckis version that is out in the cinemas at the moment... but I for one won't be doing the comparison as a) it is yet another 3D epic, and such films are wasted on a son with only one eye, as is the case with my youngest son Ciaran, and b) it apparently will scare the pants off me, something that is not my idea of preparation for Christmas (although it is in tu…

Behold the Lamb of God

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In the light of last week and this week's lectionary readings both referring to John the Baptist, I would like to offer you this painting by Flemish artist Dieric Bouts (circa 1410-1475) which I found in Munich's Alte Pinakothotek, whilst wandering around for 6 hours on a Sunday (instead of going to church... shock! horror!)

It is entitled "Behold the Lamb of God!" and was commissioned by someone considering ordination, with John pointing the potential ordinand across the river, to follow, not himself, but the "Lamb of God."

The audio-commentary described it as the most important recent acquisition by the gallery. I cannot comment on that as I am artistically illiterate, but I do believe that the same commentary was wrong when it suggested that the way that Jesus is painted suggests that he is in some kind of mystical, otherworldly state... Yes he certainly seems to be in an attitude of prayer, but actually if you look at the picture you will see that while …

Christmas Gift Ideas No 2: The Ideal Nativity Set?

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As I have already stated in a post here I was in Munich recently and was astounded by the huge range of nativity sets on display. But one that I didn't see, or perhaps didn't actually recognise as a nativity set is this "hand-painted" minimalist version by German artist Oliver Fabel. I was alerted to it by Bess over at Faith Central. But to a large extent, this, in a very straightforward way, is doing to Jesus and his story, what people have tried to do from the time of the incarnation. Fit him, and everyone else around him into a nice neat box... Make him conform to a wider design of our own making... But the truth is, Jesus didn't fit... There was no room for him in the inn and there is no room for him within our boxes, or colour-coordinated designs.








Shalom

Advent Calendar

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There are a few good online advent calendar's around this year... I previously recommended the "Paperless Christmas" one, and am still following it day by day. But here's another one. I did mention it over on fb but it's not that easy to access, so I decided to post it here, so you can come back to it daily...




Shalom

Christmas Gift Ideas No1: For those Who Find it Hard to Wait

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For those who are looking for a thoroughly Biblical, yet practical gift this Christmas...
“When the time had fully come..” Ding! “God sent forth His Son...” (Galatians 4: 4)








Cheers

Rethink Christmas

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Shopping finished? Whether it is or not, take a look at this ad/ident from the United Methodist Church... It has something to say to all of us...

Selah

Books, Beer and Bridges...

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As I’ve said a couple of times already, I was privileged to visit Munich a few weeks ago… That whole has a strong Roman Catholic character and a proud monastic tradition, and while I was there I learned more about the monks role in copying books and Bibles (as I noted previously), but also in the beer brewing industry of Bavaria, which may have outgrown its monastic roots, but still uses images of monks as a marketing tools.
But, while wandering round the Deutsches Museum, I also learned of the tradition of a "bridge-building brotherhood” who apparently dedicated their lives to building bridges as acts of piety, as much as for public utility, with the main practical aim being to aim pilgrims on their way. The story goes that St. Benozet (or Benedict) was influentual in the formation of such a brotherhood in the 12th century to build the old "pont d'Avignon" over the Rhone, which people sing about dancing on... Subsequest research on return from Munich, however sugges…

They're Back and this Time they Sing...

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OK... we're now a week in to Advent, and I'm about to engage in the joyous(?) task of putting the tree up with the boys, so it is time to share the fun! After last year's classic, here is another offering from the Campton Elves... This year it is in glorious technicolour and they sing... And there is a first (and judging by her current state of wellbeing perhaps last) appearance on film by the 5th (and furriest) inhabitant of 9 Rosepark. (If you are watching on facebook you need to click to view the original post)
Happy Christmas when it comes.

Cheers

Burning Books and Worthless Words...

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As I said yesterday, I was in Munich recently, for the first time (barring the use of the airport on one previous occasion) and I was struck by the number of bookshops around… Apparently more than in any other German city… and certainly more than any British city I know… As a dedicated bibliophile I should have been in my element, but given that I failed my 3rd year German at school and could only find one English bookshop, it wasn’t a big help.
But the "books" theme came up again and again. The first full day we were there we had a 6 hour toddle around the Deutsches Museum (you can tell that we didn't have the kids with us... although even 6 hours isn't enough to do justice to this excellent institution which is like the London Science Museum on steroids), and it has an excellent section on the manufacture of paper and books, including the mock-up of the monastic scriptorium above. Their German desire for accuracy clearly got the better of them in this and there was …

Elephants on Tiptoe...

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I was in Munich with my wife recently on a short city break… and while we were there they were getting geared up for Advent and their famous Christkindlmarkt. All over the place you could see nativity sets of all styles, sizes and sorts… Some were for sale, others were simply for decoration and/or devotion. Most of them had the usual suspects visiting Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus… angels, shepherds, and wise men with their strange gifts… but there was also an assortment of animals on display… sheep and lambs, brought in from the hillside by the shepherds, the cattle whose manger was commandeered as a cradle, the ever present donkey, a camel or two, which had presumably carried the wise men from the east, and on two occasions, elephants…
Now maybe you’ve been reading a different version of the Bible from me, but I’ve never read ANYTHING about elephants in Bethlehem… Although actually, if you read the gospel accounts in Luke and Matthew there are no mentions of camels either, or sh…

Who Do You Follow?

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Do you tweet? Are you one of the “twitterati”? I’m fairly au fait with technology… I blog and I’m known to frequent a certain social networking site, but I haven’t yet entered the weird and wonderful world of twitter. But if you are a twit or a twitterer or whatever the appropriate term is, who do you follow? And why? Many people follow stars... not celestial bodies as the Magi did, but celebrities (although tabloids would be happy to tell us that many of those celebrities have "celestial bodies"!) But last week the results of a poll were published by Prospect magazine revealing which figure from history would be most likely followed, had technology permitted…

The result was that Sir Winston Churchill came top, followed by Jesus and then Darwin. David Goodhart, the editor of the magazine suggests: “Churchill and Jesus both specialised in brief, memorable phrases — so both ‘we will fight them on the beaches’ and ‘blessed are the meek’ are messages perfect for the Twitter gene…

New Atheists and Old...

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A friend forwarded this link to me last week. It was originally written during Lentbut it's equally applicable to Advent, perhaps even more so as lots of the so called  "New Atheists'" books fly off the shelves in the run up to what is supposedly the celebration of birth of the son of the God they don't believe in...
Whilst I wouldn't agree with all of the article, I do think that the emphasis is right... the biggest threat to Christian faith are not new atheists, but the practical atheists that take their places in the pews (and pulpits) of our churches week by week. If we believe in God, we have a responsibility to live like we do.
(ps. incase you are interested, the image is from a book by Tina Beattie entitled "The New Atheists: The Twilight of Reason and the War on Religion" a book which is on my shelf, but which I haven't really had the time or enthusiasm to read yet.. just like Dawkin's most recent offering.)

Shalom