Couldn't have said it better myself...

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

Anais Nin

Thursday, May 26, 2011


In church we're just coming to the end of a series of studies on Paul's Letter to the Philippians. Philippi, at the time Paul was writing, was a small city which had been refounded as a Roman military colony little more than 60 years before... As such its citizens prized their citizenship of Rome and one of the greatest honours they could receive was a visit from a Roman Emperor, who was known (among many other similarly humble titles) as the “Saviour of Mankind”. We have no records confirming that Philippi ever did receive such a visit, but while he was in prison in Rome awaiting trial before the Emperor, Paul wrote to his friends in Philippi, saying:

"our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the
Lord Jesus Christ..."

Philippians 3:20 (ANIV)

Last week, while the news focussed on the visit of Queen Elizabeth II to Britain's erstwhile colony of Dublin, a substantial number of people in that other former British colony, also known as the United States of America, were awaiting the imminent arrival of the Saviour of Mankind. Much has been written elsewhere (notably here, here and, from a viewpoint not quite sympathetic to Christianity, here) about the predictive abilities of Harold Camping, 89 year old preacher and radio broadcaster from Oakland, California, who forecast that Jesus should have returned around 6pm on Saturday, with around 2% of people being teleported/raptured straight to heaven… warning that the rest who’ve been left behind have got just under 6 months before the End of the World on October 21st. He has now revised his predictions (he has a history of this) to say that actually everything is going to happen on October 21st.

Now a lot of people have had a lot of fun at Harold's expense... except it isn't costing him much... rather he has been fleecing those who believe his twaddle, and I've been talking to those working with people from Pentecostal backgrounds in the Philippines, Eastern Europe and Africa who say that they have been sending money to his ministry and were genuinely terrified at the thought of the world ending on Saturday... That is an obscenity and one that I genuinely hope Harold has to answer for when the real judgement day rolls around...

As to when that will be... Well, we know Jesus himself didn't know the time or place of his return… So, with due respect, why should God let Harold Camping or David Campton in on the big secret and yet keep it from his son?
Once again I remind you of the story that sociologist and preacher Tony Campolo tells about a time when he was asked about the timetable for Jesus' return:

“I don’t know," he claims to have said "I’m not on the planning committee; I’m on the welcoming committee.”
Boy I wish I could come up with lines like that... And I hope you will be on the welcoming committee… I doubt that it will be on the 21st October... but why not make it sooner as you welcome him first and and foremost into your heart and mind…

A radically revised version of my "Just a Moment" on Downtown this morning.

ps. When I was searching for a suitable photograph for today's blog I clicked on a website with the above, widely used photo, only to find that it was a link to one of those sites that tries to terrify you that your computer is infected with viruses, thus encouraging you to hand over hard-earned cash to purchase their protection... Maybe they see in Harold a kindred spirit... Harold Camping, the patron saint of fear merchants and scam artists...

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

My Son...

A few weeks ago I went to see the new movie “Thor” based on Marvel Comics’ take on the old Norse myths… I went with my ten year old son, who is, like me at his age a complete nut about Marvel Superheroes and ancient myths and we were both keen to see this latest big screen interpretation… Here's the trailer for those of you who missed it...

Just incase you couldn't make head nor tail of this, and here I flag up a slight spoiler alert, the key element of the plot is that Thor, son of the King of the Norse god’s Odin, is banished from Asgard to earth as a form of punishment by his father and has to prove himself worthy in order to restore himself to his father’s favour… You can guess for yourself how it all works out…
I won't give a detailed critique of the film, as I'll post my thoughts on that front elsewhere, although, to be truthful, while I enjoyed it, it probably doesn't really stand up under close scrutiny.
However, I did find myself thinking that the story portrayed contrasts strongly with the story of the son of God that we read in the Bible… there, Jesus isn’t banished from heaven, he freely chooses to give up the riches to heaven out of love for the world, and he doesn’t need to earn his heavenly father’s favour… indeed right at the outset of his mission on earth, when he was being baptised by John, a voice echoes from heaven, saying “This is my son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased…”
And the thing is that our heavenly Father wants all his children to hear him say that of us… and to us, and through Jesus we can… We can’t earn God’s favour… nothing we can say or do can possibly do that… and like any father or mother there is nothing that we his children could make him love us an more...
His love and his pleasure are his gifts to us if only we will accept...

An adaptation of this morning's "Just a Moment" on Downtown and my talk from last Sunday morning...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Read On...

As this post goes online I'll probably be in the midst of an Annual Circuit Meeting... which like all business meetings, fills me with precious little joy... But this is a day when Methodists remember that amazing things can happen even when we go "very unwillingly" to meetings, because on the 24th May 1738, the man regarded as the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, famously wrote in his journal:

“In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death."

Out of an inauspicious start an amazing outcome...

What we Methodists generally overlook however, is what comes immediately after that where he says:

“I began to pray with all my might for those who had in a more especial
manner despitefully used me and persecuted me.”

John Wesley’s first thoughts on being given an assurance of forgiveness and salvation was to pray for his enemies… Maybe that is why Methodists later became known as the friends of all and the enemies of none!

So whether you are a Methodist or not, let me suggest that in honour of John Wesley’s memory tonight we might spend time praying for those who have done ill to us and ours…

An adaptation of this morning's "Just a Moment" on Downtown Radio.

There's No-One as Irish...

Dublin has a reputation as a venue for short city-breaks, but that usually involves couples getting away for a weekend… or groups of people going there for a stag or hen party… But this past week has seen two of the most prestigious flying visits to Dublin in a long, long time… First the momentous visit of the Queen last week, not only seeking to acknowledge a painful past but also endeavouring to point to a more positive partnership in the future… And then yesterday the President of the United States of America jetted in on Airforce One… And unlike the Queen or Prince Philip, when offered a pint of the black stuff he knocked it back (doubtless causing ecstacy among the advertising boys at St. James' Gate).

During the run up to his election the above song doing the rounds affirming that there’s no-one as Irish as Barack O’Bama, and I heard it yet again over the past few days. But I don’t think many people realised at the time that he does have significant roots in Moneygall, County Offaly. Some cynical commentators have suggested that he merely came here to boost his standing with Irish-Americans in the run up to a re-election campaign next year… It is a little ironic that Ireland enthusiastically affirmed him as a son of the sod… while there are still those across the Atlantic who refuse to accept that he was born on American soil and therefore can legitimately be President of the USA…
There have at times been criticisms of Obama's "messianic" status in some quarters, but regardless of that I was reminded in the build up to yesterday, that when Christ came into the world “he came unto his own but his own did not receive him.”
There were no state receptions, fanfares, or elaborate security precautions for him… He came, not as the head of an earthly empire, maintaining power by military might, but as the envoy of a coming heavenly kingdom, a kingdom of grace and peace.. giving up the riches of heaven to become an ordinary human being... Living our lives, and dying our death... Not seeking a lost apostrophe... But to seek and save the lost...

An adapted version of the "Just a Moment" I recorded for Downtown Radio yesterday morning...

Friday, May 20, 2011

Loyal Yokefellow

I was doing a live Thought for the Day for Radio Ulster this morning at 6.55 and 7.55am, and one of the great fears when preparing something like this is that you go to sleep well-prepared but wake up the next morning to find that something major has happened which completely derails what you were going to say... Such as yesterday morning when I lurched into consciousness to the news of the death of former Taoiseach Dr. Garrett Fitzgerald.
This put a whole different perspective on recent events in Dublin, because there is no doubt that the signing the Anglo-Irish Agreement by him and Margaret Thatcher in 1985, set in train a process which eventually culminated in the momentous visit of the Queen to Ireland this week… Many said a very loud “No” to that Agreement at that time… But in the wake of the later Good Friday Agreement, the majority of people on this island have emphatically and repeatedly said “Yes” to the attempt to put the past behind us and find a way of working together to our mutual benefit… And the events of this week have powerfully symbolised that.
A number of years ago friends of mine went as mission workers to the high Himalayas… After trekking for days from civilisation they arrived in the area they were supposed to work in and were introduced to the local people… When asked where they came from, they said “Northern Ireland.” “Oh…” came the reply, “the place where Christians kill each other…”
What an epitaph!
Garrett Fitzgerald’s many eloquent epitaphs have emphasized his part in seeking to change that poor reputation of this country… But what about those of us in less influential positions? How will we be remembered?
Well, I am reminded of a single line in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, which we are studying together in our local church under the title of "New Beginnings." In chapter 4 of that letter Paul pleads with 2 members of the church there, “Euodia and Syntyche” to agree with each other… We know nothing else about these two people… indeed we’re not even sure whether we’ve got the first one’s name right or whether they were a he or she… all we know about them is that they didn't get on with each other…
But Paul also refers to someone he calls “Syzygus” or loyal “Yokefellow” asking him to intervene with these two quarrelsome colleagues and help them to work together…
What might my one-line epitaph be? Or yours? Someone always at odds with others, or a loyal yokefellow? Someone who always says no, or a worker for peace and reconciliation between people. A builder of new beginnings...


(An adaptation of my piece on "Good Morning Ulster" this morning. You should be able to hear it on the iplayer for the next week at around 26 and 86 minutes into the programme... I'll post the link when it's up...)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

I'm VM... Fly Me...

I have long realised that VM has not been doing enough to improve people's knowledge of European geography... Well, here, at last is the way to address that... A completely addictive game by Lufthansa giving us all the chance to be pilots for a minute or two...

The widget doesn't actually work in the blog but it will take you where you need to go, unlike most Ryanair flights... Enjoy...

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Happy (Belated) Birthday KJV

Monday week ago the 2nd of May was the 400th Birthday of that venerable old lady, the King James, or Authorised, version of the Bible. I've been a bit snowed under with one thing and another recently (hence the lack of any posts) and the wider world was a bit distracted by other things like elections, marathons, the aftermath of a big royal shindig and the assassination/bringing to justice of a certain terrorist leader, so there wasn't much coverage in the media on the actual day of the anniversary, although there have been a number of interesting programmes and articles in the run up to it.
On a local level we threw a bit of a low key party last Sunday evening as members of the three churches on our local Methodist Circuit shared their favourite readings from the KJV, juxtaposed with some more modern worship songs... It was a good night, if truth be told, and those who absented themselves either because they didn't like the KJV, or modern worship songs, well it was their loss.
However, while I want to give thanks for the publication of the King James Version and the influence that it had on the English speaking world, I am not one of those who is a KJV-only person... Indeed I use a wide variety of versions, though, because of my age and upbringing in evangelicalism of the 1980s I usually default to the Northern Irish Version (isn't that what NIV stands for?). Haven't made up my mind on whether I'm going to switch to the NNIV yet when it hits the shops properly next month.
But anyway, whilst I believe the KJV was important I don't venerate it, or elevate it above other later translations... And I enjoyed this piece by Nick Page based on his book "God's Dangerous Book", where he says:

1. It was widely ignored on publication. Far from being an instant classic, The King James, or Authorised Version, was widely ignored on first publication for one very good reason: hardly anyone wanted it in the first place. It was widely ignored on publication.

2. It was never intended as a means of giving the Bible to the people: it was intended as a way of stopping them using the Bible they already had. The people already had a great English translation – the Geneva version. James I hated that because he thought its footnotes were seditious. So he specifically commanded that the new version should be done without footnotes.

3. It was a revision not a new translation. James ordered that it be based on the text of the Bishops’ Bible of 1568. James instructed that the new version was to be ‘as little altered as the truth of the original [i.e. the Bishop’s Bible] will permit’.

4. It was a politically motivated translation. James also instructed that ‘the old ecclesiastical words to be kept, viz. the word Church not to be translated Congregation.’ James insisted that ekklesia be translated as church and that the word ‘bishop’ be used instead of ‘elder’. So you get verses like Acts 1.20, where the Geneva Bible has

For it is written in the booke of Psalmes, Let his habitation be void, and let no man dwel therein: also, Let another take his charge.

The AV has

For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishoprick let another take.

It is difficult to imagine the writer of Psalms ever had in mind someone taking over a bishopric.

5. It’s a sanitised version. The Geneva Bible uses the word ‘tyrant’ over four hundred times to describe wicked kings and emperors. But you won’t find the word at all in the AV. It’s the king’s Bible – how can a divine monarch ever be a tyrant?

6. It was designed to be the preserve of the clergy and church. It was a lectern Bible – a massive book designed to be kept in a church and read to you. The Geneva Bible had tons of footnotes and introductions and maps and charts – it was the world’s first study Bible. the AV had nothing except a lengthy preface and then the lectionary. The powers behind the AV didn’t want the people to read the Bible: they wanted it read to them.

7. It was the world’s first mock-Tudor Bible. The language is undeniably beautiful. But it is deceptive. The translators of the AV upgraded the language of the original. The translators chose – created, really – a style of language which was not one spoken in Jacobean England: which, indeed, had never really been spoken by anyone, at any time. They were deliberately archaic. They used terms and phrases which were already out of date in 1611. Anthony Johnson, writing less than ninety years later stated that the absence of notes from the AV led to complaints from some readers that ‘they could not see into the sense of the Scriptures.’

8. It’s mainly the work of Tyndale. The AV is still, primarily the work of the great William Tyndale. At least 83 per cent of the New Testament comes from Tyndale’s translation and 76 per cent of the Old Testament come from Tyndale’s work, with the AV translators just adding that sheen of impenetrable Jacobean literary bling. The AV has majesty and stateliness. But Tyndale has a levity, a homeliness which is entirely absent from the AV. According to Tyndale, ‘The Lord was with Joseph and he was a lucky fellow’; according to the AV ‘the Lord was with Joseph and he was a prosperous man’ (Gen. 39.2). See what’s happened? Joseph’s gone up in the world. Just like the Bible.

9. Even the translators themselves didn’t use it. Lancelot Andrewes, chairman of the AV translators, used the Geneva Bible for his sermons – as did several other bishops. Archbishop Laud, the man later given the task of suppressing the Geneva Bible, based his sermons on the Geneva Bible until the mid-1620s. Amazingly, even in the AV itself, in the preface, Bishop Smith makes a quote – and he quotes the Geneva Bible! When the Puritans from the Mayflower set foot on America, it was the Geneva Bible they carried with them, not the King James.

10. It succeeded because other versions were banned. The Geneva Bible continued to sell and in huge numbers. Indeed, the Geneva proved so popular that in 1616 the King was forced to ban the printing of the Geneva Bible by any English press. Although people continued to import copies, eventually the ban worked and the AV became the default English translation. Without any serious competition, its sonorous, beautiful, fantastic prose wove itself into our culture.

The following video, posted by Zoomtard on Facebook this evening (thus stirring me to actually write this) proves the truth of that last sentence beautifully:

However, there is a caveat in the closing words of Nick Page's book:

Its privileged position means that the AV has taken on a symbolic value. Just as everyone loves old English churches, but fewer and fewer go to worship, we cherish the AV, but hardly anyone reads it. A copy of the AV is what every household has, along with a dusty volume of the complete works of Shakespeare.

This is why the AV is the non-Christian’s version of choice. It allows them to enjoy the language without having to obey the thing. Because, deep down, we want a God with a big white beard and a nice line in Jacobean poetry. We don’t want a God who talks in the language of tradesman’s Greek; a God who sounds like a shopkeeper or a housewife or even a carpenter; we want a God who sounds old and ancient and mysterious. The logical conclusion of this is the mind-bogglingly stupid statement of Charles Allen Dinsmore, who declared the AV to be ‘a finer and nobler literature than the Scriptures in their original tongues.’ As the Cambridge History of the Bible puts it, the AV’s text ‘acquired a sanctity properly ascribable only to the unmediated voice of God.’

Why do we love the King James Bible? Why did it come to dominate our culture?

Because it sounds better than the original.