Thursday, December 25, 2008

Eternal Life, Quality vs Quantity

Christmas. Jesus. Baby. Manger. Hay. Doting parents. Awestruck shepherds. Nonchalant livestock. It's surely the ultimate divine comedy that God answered Mary and Joseph's frantic prayers for a room in a B&B by providing a parking space for their donkey instead. So who was he, this holy infant so tender and mild? Why did he come? What did his words mean? How should his actions be interpreted?

Probably the most famously used abbreviation of this remarkable life is the one found in John 3:16, 'For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life'. As it happens I've been thinking a lot lately about this eternal life. I'm far from convinced that it is at all synonymous with the much loved idea of 'going to heaven'. ‘Perishing’ has always struck me as being a greengrocer sort of image. We have a fancy silver bowl in our kitchen that frequently contains perishing fruits of various types. Leave them in there long enough and they'll all perish into various forms of fungus and fuzz. None of them have eternal life. You see the things of this world deteriorate. There is a peak of life, energy, vitality (that I passed many moons ago) and beyond this zenith life grows less and less. The words of Jesus quoted in John 3:16 seem to be suggesting that God desires to gift to us, through his son, a state of being with the fear of rot removed, a permanent peak, no morning after the night before.

Related to this, I find that all too often, at mention of the phrase ‘eternal life’, my mind races off into the future searching out to measure the length of that promised infinity. This of course produces nothing but an ‘error’ message in the brain, the concept of eternity is as troubling as it is promising. But what if I were to consider ‘eternal life’ in terms of quality- a fruit of spectacular taste and texture, rather than quantity - a fruit with no best-before date. Do you get me? I think I'm trying to say, what if the linear dimension of time were not my singular reference point, but rather I managed to gain a glimpse into a life being lived in and measured by fullness. And after all, wasn’t the language of fullness used very interchangeably with the language of eternity in the words of Jesus, and later of the Apostles too, most notably Paul?

Anyway, to draw this to a close, suffice to say, this Christmas I’m trying to remember that Jesus came to open the way for me first and foremost into a quality of life, with the quantity of that life finding relevance merely as a shadow finds relevance from a solid object. Is that a bit too philosophical for Christmas Day?

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Hallelujah for Saturday night TV

Confession: I have been known to get a lump in my throat during the X-Factor. Okay, maybe once or twice I might have got a little moist in the corner of my eyes too. Yes, I know, street cred in tatters etc etc. Last night, as most of the nation knows, was the grand final of the 2008 series, and round at the Wilson household events were carefully planned around it. Would the night end in the indignity of a little Irish munchkin scooping the prize or would a contestant with a bit of genuine talent eventually triumph?
Well, as it happened the former scenario was thankfully evaded as Eoghan was ditched at the first hurdle leaving solo artist Alexandra and boy-band JLS to battle it out for the top spot. And then things got interesting. For some baffling reason (perhaps the same baffling reason behind last week's performance of 'Amazing Grace' by Italian quartet Il Divo?) the final head to head song turned out to be Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah'. The classic Simon Cowell line, "Who on earth chose that song for you?" does spring to mind at this point. And yet it was a truly inspired song choice. Yes, this dark/light, folk/gospel, poem/ballad seemed to totally make sense, even on prime time Saturday night TV. The response of the studio audience and the judges to wave after wave of the song's 'Hallelujah' chorus belted out with passion and sincerity was probably the closest most people in this country are going to get to Christ this Christmas. Unless they go out and buy the single that is; because then they could have their very own dark/light, folk/gospel, poem/ballad worship time in the comfort of their own home. Which is actually quite exciting.

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Saturday, December 06, 2008

Be angry, be very angry...

I've been doing at bit of homework recently on the development of Hydrogen fuel cells thinking that I might invest a bit of money into a company involved in their development and production - let's face it, the age of oil is over. So I signed up to a few email circulars that promised to offer info about 'CleanTech' stocks. Soon after I got sent a link to a site and innocently clicked through to this:
"The 21st Century's Most Precious Natural Resource is turning out to be the investment opportunity of the decade!
It's history's most illustrious, least appreciated, most essential resource. Without it, manufacturing would cease and the world economy would die. And we're using it up at a frightening pace.
You can bet you'll be hearing a lot about this precious commodity in the coming months and years. In fact, it's already starting to attract attention:
* Already, there are armed conflicts over its control in Sri Lanka, Bolivia, and Yugoslavia... border skirmishes between the U.S. and Mexico... even terrorist threats to halt its supply in Asia and the Middle East.
And now it's about to become the biggest boom industry, one that could make early investors very wealthy! Bigger than railroads in the 1880s. Bigger than aerospace in the 1950s. Bigger than Big Pharma in the 1980s, tech in the 1990s, and petroleum in the 1920s and early 2000s.
Those who take control of this neglected resource will control the world's wealth. And the best news is... the boom is just starting. China is investing billions. Closer to home, the Carlyle Group and Morgan Stanley are committing up to $20 billion.
What is this mystery sector I've been talking about? An essential and irreplaceable product -- drinking water. Potable H2O is the oil of the 21st century, and one would be hard-pressed to find a more compelling investment story. The bottom line is there's a fixed supply of the stuff and demand for it is exploding around the world."

And so it goes on, you can check out the link for yourself here>>>

Now, bear in mind that I'm a James Bond junkie which means I've recently watched Quantum of Solace (and I hope you have too!) The premise of the story is that a company is beginning to monopolise the world's water resources by taking advantage of the fragility and corruption in developing world countries. Now we all know that where Bond goes, the world follows (no really - remember the Space Shuttle!) Anyway, it just beggars belief that in our world, in which 1 billion extremely poor people lack a basic clean water supply and almost 2 million a year die from diseases carried in dirty water, people would want to move in on this as a profiteering venture. Most reports agree that for around £15 billion EVERYONE ON THE PLANET can be given access to safe water. You can quite literally bet your bottom dollar that big corporate interest out there doesn't want that to happen because it would undermine their desire to make a fat profit.

My wife and I will be travelling to Haiti in January with a bunch of friends and amongst the projects we'll be visiting is a clean water facility we're helping to build for a community of thousands of desperate people. Can you imagine us standing there when it's opened and asking people to scrape together the few pennies they do have just so that they can have a taste? The thought is just obscene.

Like I say, be angry, be very angry, it's a greedy new world we're entering.
But don't just be angry, be generous, give some water today:
Water Aid
Tearfund

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

This Little Light


Friday night we held a huge gig at the Manchester Apollo. The place was packed out with teenagers from local high schools, it was a great night. One of the highlights was the 'world premier' playing of Lz7's new pop video. We're hoping to get a million downloads of this in the next few months so go on, give it a click.

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Sinner?

First taste was in the dark
with the sound of crying echoing off the walls.
Your crying.
You have every right to cry.
You’re only 9 weeks old and the virus in your chest burns like hot coal.
Outline of sleep-deprived parent appears over the cot,
a fierce voice barks hot breath into your face.
Hands grab your little arms a bit too tightly.
There’s a heavy pause, followed by unrecognised words,
“Sorry… I’m sorry… It’s OK…”

Sin and repentance.
Simple and quick.
Sour and sweet.
It won’t always be so.
By the first sound of the school bell sin has struck more times that you can count.
This is the world that makes all Victim.
Worse.
This world turns all Offender.

Close fleshy lids and recall the times you’ve been scorched
by lies and scams,
by names called and rights revoked,
by property taken, identity mistaken,
your body used, trust abused.
Coerced and compromised.
Even if you resist its name you know sin’s forms
the way Adam knew Eve.

Now look about.
This talk of sin occurs on the salt plains where
there is no topography of differentiation.
Dirty fingerprints are on us all.
Beauty and beast find empathy in their scars.
But who invited this?
This life?
This world?
This injustice?

Tell me how an innocent bush-boy becomes a stoned-soldier;
how in a twist of fate the victim becomes the perpetrator.
His broken heart becomes cold and calloused.
And with every crime he tells our story.
For we are all enlisted, young.
Now our grown-up minds store toxic pools,
our tongues razors.
Cats claws have grown in our paws
and the truth sags through lack of exercise.
Actions provoked reactions and it happened.
Sin found a host, a home.
A soul to shame,
a name to blame.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Manchester Congestion Charge - which way to vote?

Today I got my Manchester Congestion Charge ballot paper through the door. Now I face the dilemma of which way to vote. Let's face it, Democracy = Compromise, there's never a black and white answer. Here's the tension I find myself in: On the one hand I absolutely hate traffic jams, they're so high on my list of things I hate that when I once found myself on stage with David Cameron in front of a huge crowd and TV audience and he asked me "What would you change if you were Prime Minister?" I responded, "I'd get a gadget in my car to turn traffic lights from red to green." Seriously, I did. He was expecting a profound statement about social policy, I was thinking of the glory of the open road (I did come up with a proper response shortly afterwards). Then on the other hand I hate injustice, and I consider the T.I.F. proposals to be fundamentally unjust at the core. No investment in roads, but all the cash drivers pay goes to subsidise other people's travel (I generalise), that's just wrong.
So it's a dilemma, whichever way I vote I'll be compromising on some level. I do of course have my own ideas about how to sort things out, based on my own deeply considered opinion about what's wrong. Clogged arteries. That's the problem. Like an old heart Manchester's vehicle routes in and out are just too narrow. The A6 coming in from Stockport is useless, those ramshackle old shops through Levenshulme and Longsight need bulldozing to make room. Then we need to get some of those elevated roads, they're proper cool, look at any great city around the world, Skyways they call them in the states, we need lots of them, fpr starters all the way from Cheetham Hill to Victoria Station, swooshing in like a Reticulated Python. Then we need to fly in a whole load of those traffic cops from Madrid, have you seen them in action? Nothing stands still when they're on the case. Combine this with a properly funded Oyster card system like London and a bunch of cameras zapping the idiots who block all the city centre box junctions and you're sorted!
But back to the ballot. Sadly I don't have the option to vote on my own proposals, I have to vote on theirs. It's gonna cost me money that's for sure, about £20 a month based on my typical movements. Will I feel the benefit of reduced jams? Probably not. The only people likely to benefit at all are those who travel by train or those who've been waiting for the Metrolink coming past their house for years. I'm not in either of those categories. The question really is, What are the implications of a No vote? Will the city centre die a slow painful death? Probably not. It's knackered either way, after all who would want to site a business there if all the staff and customers have to pay for the privalege of trucking in? Maybe it will be good for the flagging city centre property market though? People currently driving in from the suburbs might decide to relocate. Or they might just get another job. One thing's certain, a No vote would be a huge embarrassment for the city, we'll be the butt of all the jokes. And if there's anything I dislike more than traffic jams it's embarrassment. Maybe for that reason alone I should vote Yes?

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Music and motivation

It's fair to say that I've been struggling a bit with motivation the last few weeks. The fact that my blog's suffered is just one little sign of this. My life moves at such a pace that from the outside looking in it's unlikely that anyone else would notice anything's changed, but hey, I'm just being honest. So what moves me to hit the keys now then when I've been unable to do so for weeks on end? Well, it's nothing short of the pure, undiluted power of music. Yep, just window-shopping in cyberspace I stumbled across a music-geek type blog, not the sort of place I'd usually hang out but on it I found a link to a mashup of one of the greatest club tunes of 1990 (which was a stunningly good year for club tunes) - the acapella version of 'Everybody Everybody' by Blackbox.
When I was 17 and at the peak of my raving career (ponytail - puffajacket - the works) my parents dragged me off for a holiday in Florida. I remember sitting in the back of a people carrier on Daytona beach while the sun scorched outside and tourists tanned their pale bodies. All I wanted to do was listen to this song at full blast with the windows up and the aircon on. My mum, dad and sisters thought I was proper wierd but in my mind I was back on the dancefloor (this one!) with a sweat-soaked t-shirt tucked in my jeans and the smell of Tiger Balm in my nostrils.
It was literally half a lifetime ago but behind my eyelids I'm back there again.
This is motivation.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Bored...

In case you hadn't noticed I've become a bit bored of my little blog.
Maybe I'll get a second wind.
Maybe I'll wrap it up at Christmas.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Atheists Going Public

You may or may not have heard about the British Humanist Society's plans to begin advertising on buses with the catchy slogan "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life." It's an interesting development within the larger debate that's been rumbling on for some time now - whether or not faith is a public or private matter. I'm a passionate advocate for the place of faith in public life. Privatized beliefs are utterly pointless, I mean, why bother believing anything if it has no connection to the way you live your life and if it isn't worth sharing with someone else? Books like the God Delusion and poster campaigns like this one (which probably doesn't even need to run now as it's attracted so much publicity already) bring the God conversation into the public realm and I love that. Faith is such a deliciously juicy subject to discuss and that's why it drives me nuts that it's too taboo to bring up in polite conversation. If only people could get beyond their cultural conditioning that schools them to resist any situation in which their worldview might be challenged. Pesky memes, they spoil all the fun.

For an interesting look at the 'Probably' bit of this poster see my review of the book 'Deluded By Dawkins'.

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Post-Charismatic? - review

For the last couple of weeks this book has had me hooked. Post-Charismatic? covers a colourful spectrum of well-researched material mostly drawn from the last 100 years or so of Charismatic experience. There are laugh out loud stories of early Pentecostals who, having just begun to speak in tongues, jumped on boats to far flung destinations only to find out that the cultures to whom they felt called had absolutely no idea what they were saying. There are serious exposés of a number of key 'Charismaniacs' examining their dubious theological tenets, wild prophetic machinations and disturbing manipulations of the faithful. And amidst all this there's a consistent focus on learning from mistakes and looking hopefully towards the future. This isn't an angry book, quite the opposite - it's hugely gracious. It's tone is probably best summed up in this little section from the prologue,
"...many post-charismatics... find it too difficult, or too emotionally exhausting, to sort through all the practices and teachings and discern the good from the bad. They simply withdraw and consider that chapter of their lives closed."
By the end of the book it's apparent that the people in this category are probably Rob's primary audience. This is why he structures the book in two clear halves; the first a headlong plunge into the present mess of the Charismatic Church and the second a valiant effort to describe a way by which the bored, the confused and the hurting can enjoy again a relationship with the Triune - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In the closing pages he admits that 'post-charismatic' is far too limited and loaded a term to do justice to this new possibility and so he borrows a phrase from a blogging friend: charismissional. I quite like it.

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

Mike Frost in Oxford

Early this morning a bunch of us drove down to Oxford to hear Mike Frost (author of 'Exiles' and 'The Shaping Of Things To Come'). Mike is one of the world's foremost writers and thinkers on Incarnational Mission so the potential for new learning was very high. It was a long way to go for a day conference but it was well worth the drive. His morning session was basically the best presented case I've ever heard for why and how church as we currently know it must change - and fast.
He summarised church as consisting of 4 basic elements: worship, community, formation and mission. His next observation was that whilst each of these elements is vital, one of them has, throughout the Christendom era, acted as the 'organising principle' of the others. That element is worship. Then, for the rest of the morning he went on to describe what church might look like in our Post-Christendom world if we re-oriented around mission as our 'organising principle'. What really set this session apart were the many examples taken from his own church (or 'faith collective' as he cheekily referred to it) which goes by the name of 'Small Boat Big Sea', as well as a whole bunch of stories from his mission buddies around the world.
Perhaps the one thought that impacted me the most came during his exploration of the Mission Dei, the self-sending God, who he described as having a 'human-shaped hole' in his heart. That possibility had never stuck me before, but I instantly got it.
Nice one Mike, hope you have a safe trip back to Oz ;-)

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Opt In or Opt Out

I had a brief conversation yesterday whilst down in London. It went along fairly classic lines. My question: 'How can we get more missionally-minded Christians to move into council estates and inner city areas?' The response was all too predictable, a wearied frown and a small but perceptible dropping of the shoulders: 'But that's a very special kind of calling...'
The guy should've known better, he grew up on a council estate and is heavily involved in urban ministry with a very significant church. And he was talking to me. But we'd not met before so I didn't chin him.
I'm totally convinced of one simple thing; as long as ministry that impinges on our middle-class comfort is considered somehow 'special' we'll never see 'Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.' As long as we keep acting as if the great commission (that pesky 'Go' thing Jesus said) is something we are expected to opt-in to things will never change. Basically the orientation is as follows: there's a lot of mess in the world and I should assume that God wants me out there in the thick of it unless I am given explicit instructions to the contrary.

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

God's Politics?

The Labour party conference has been going on here in Manchester this weekend so all the Government bigwigs are in town along with a huge fringe of party members, lobbyists and general tagger-onners. Apart from causing me a fair amount of inconvenience trying to drive through the city centre on Friday evening it has given me the opportunity to catch up with an old mate who now works in Parliament.
It's been a long time since I've had chance to have such a deeply involved political conversation with someone who actually knows what's going on from the inside - my friend literally spends every day in the palace of Westminster meeting with MPs across all parties. One of the main circles of our discussion concerned the Labour party - the place where historically (in terms of culture and heritage) both our affiliations are found - but a party in which it is incredibly difficult to be 'out' about Christian commitment. For example, while David Cameron is busy courting the support of prominent Christian activists, particularly in the big cities, Labour's union base are busy villifying Joel Edwards upon hearing of his appointment to the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Having just watched Charlie Wilson's War last night I find myself hopeful again that one man (or woman) in the right place, at the right time can change the outcome of the direst situation. I believe my friend to be such a man - God's man.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Small Ritual


Every now and again I find something on the internet that is jaw-droppingly cool. Yesterday I was having dumb fun generating geeky pictures of myself (not hard) at www.yearbookyourself.com. Today I was simply letting my eyes dance and my mind race as I flicked through the pages of Small Ritual. It basically combines two of my favourite things in the world: kick-ass graphic design and forward-thinking Christian faith. Bookmarks at the ready...

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

No Big Bang just yet... but give it a few days....

So despite many idiots out there on the Manchester roads I made it to work safely today. What a relief. And I also avoided being sucked into singularity at the speed of light. Yes, the new Large Hadron Collider (LHC) deep below the Swiss Alps was revved up at 8.33 our time without creating a Black Hole. Phew. Although saying that they haven't actually collided any protons together with 'cataclysmic force' yet. So maybe the world will end next week instead.
One of the things I love about this story is that the journalists reporting on it clearly don't quite know what to do with the basic premise of the experiment. What I mean is, the media with its overwhelmingly secular worldview likes to report science as solid reassuring fact. But the reason £5 billion has been spent on this Scalextric track on steroids is that there is actually a heck of a lot that science still can't tell us about the universe we live in. Now don't get me wrong, I don't roll with the 'science explains all this and God explains the rest' crowd, all that achieves is a shrinking God as science advances filling in more of the gaps. No, all I'm really happy about is the welcome reminder of the essential mystery that remains at the heart of everything, 'Dark Matter' and all that invisible stuff that scientists believe in even though none of them have actually ever seen it or even detected with their clever gadgets. Sorry, I mustn't mock but hey, who knows, maybe in a few weeks the headlines will tell us that they've finally observed the wrly dubbed 'God Particle'. And hopefully we'll all still be here to scratch our chins and wonder if that will get us to work any quicker in future.

The universe around us is not what it appears to be. The stars make up less than 1 percent of its mass; all the loose gas and other forms of ordinary matter, less than 5 percent. The motions of this visible material reveal that it is mere flotsam on an unseen sea of unknown material. We know little about that sea. The terms we use to describe its components, "dark matter" and "dark energy," serve mainly as expressions of our ignorance.
David B. Cline, Scientific American, 2003

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Saturday, September 06, 2008

Everything Is Spiritual

Binging. That word looks wierd when you spell it out doesn't it? Binge. Come to think of it that's not much of an improvement. Anyway, whatever the word used to describe it, today I may have had a bit too much Rob Bell. Now I know what you're thinking - 'Matt Wilson suggesting you can have too much Rob Bell?' Well no, you'll be pleased to hear that my Rob Bell groupie status is still intact. It's just that I'd taken a break from the spectacled wonder for a little while and now I'm realising again why I liked him so much in the first place.
Everything Is Spiritual is the name of the new DVD Rob has released, an hour and a bit of one man theatre theology produced off the back of his 2007 tour of the same name. I actually bought it because I thought it would be a great way to stretch the minds of some of our gap year trainees. Now having watched it (3 times!) I'm pretty sure it would just go right over their heads. The material in it is just superb - from theology to cosmology, blending observational humour with philosophy, bringing quantum physics to life with doodles and wisecracks... "because we all know how exotic leptons can be right?"
For everyone who worries or wonders about the shallowness or the narrowness of the arguments on both sides of the faith / science divide this really is a feast. For everyone else, well, there's a reason they don't stock this at your local Blockbuster.

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Monday, September 01, 2008

Formation vs Information

On Sunday I took part in a TV debate about violent crime and what if anything can be done about it. It was pretty humbling to meet some amazing people like Angie Lawrence from Mothers Against Violence and Helen Newlove whose husband Garry was kicked to death only yards from his own front door by a gang of drunken thugs.
There was general consensus around a number of points such as the joke that we know as the British Criminal Justice system. Host Terry Christian seemed to have a bee in his bonnet about providing jobs for the unemployed in deprived communities. It's always hard to get a word in on these sort of shows so I had to wait for a chance to get a point in that wouldn't just be an echo of what everyone else was saying. That opportunity came when we got on to the subject of education.
One of the things I have concluded after years of working with young people is that lots of people are prepared to offer them information. We are after all in the 'information age'. Schools try desperately to fill young heads with facts that can be regurgitated later in the exam hall. If they're progressive they might offer specialisms in 'information technology'. I've sat in on council youth strategy meetings where Connexions and the Youth Service bleat on about frameworks for offering young people IAG (information, advice and guidance). That's all well and good but what about formation?
Formation is the development of deeply rooted character attributes, the shaping of attitude and the expression of human qualities such as empathy, forgiveness, compassion, patience, generosity and humour. I'm becoming more and more convinced that the only way to change our nation is to emphasise and maximise the formative potential of our social environments. The home, schools and colleges, workplaces, recreational spaces, faith communities, with a bit of re-imagination they can all begin to contribute to bring about the change this nation so desperately needs. It also happens to be an area in which those of us with spiritual insight ought to be able to provide real leadership.

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Saturday, August 30, 2008

WKD = Wasted Kid's Despair

When I'm zooming around from place to place there's not much can stop me in my tracks. But yesterday I saw something so heart-breakingly staggering that I literally screeched the car to a halt. By the side of the road, at the end of a set of guilty looking black skid marks was a makeshift shrine. I've commented about these before (here) but have never seen such an 'impressive' example before.
The shrine was a couple of miles east of Manchester city centre in a place called Openshaw, somewhere that many of my friends have chosen to live so that they can be salt and light in this needy community. And what a powerful reminder of why they need to keep up their efforts. The real tragedy in this image is not that a young life has been lost (the flowers read RIP DALE) but that the friends' tribute is so completely without irony. If you can't make out the photo which I hastily took on my mobile phone let me explain it. Flanking either side of the 20 or so bunches of flowers are at least 100 empty bottles of WKD, with a few bottles of Jack Daniels and Smirnoff thrown in for good measure. Every single bottle has the appearance of having been 'downed in one' and is planted in the earth by its neck.
If ever there was an image that summed up the utter numbness and hopelessness of today's urban generation surely this is it.

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Language of Love

I would rarely ever turn to the book of Deuteronomy for inspiration. Yes I'm sure that there's loads of great stuff in there but I'm just being honest. Anyway, prompted by my 'New Best Friend' Eugene Peterson (OK I've been reading his books) I've been taking a fresh look. In particular my attention has been caught by the prominence of the word love within the book (29 uses)...
"Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." Deut 6:5
I now find that wherever I seem to turn in scripture this single line, this simple but heavily laden injunction follows me around, the perfect example being when Jesus himself verbally affirmed the primacy of this command, which of course he also physically embodied. And it's this second element of loving God that I'm most profoundly challenged by. I can mentally ascent to the fact that I need to love God, after all 'He first loved me'. But how do I live that love? In the pages of scripture it appears plainly that higher than believing in God, higher than trusting God, higher than even worshipping God is the invitation to love God, which is a fusion of believing and trusting and worshipping plus a whole lot more.
I want to love God, I really do, but love just doesn't seem to be a language I'm very fluent in.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Mike Guglielmucci - a sad, sad situation

Just a couple of days ago I posted a YouTube clip here featuring the cancer-fighting testimony of Australian pastor and worship leader Mike Guglielmucci. As you can see below it was a story that really moved me - moved me enough to want to share it. Well, I now find myself wishing I hadn't. Hillsong Church have removed the clip from YouTube now because it has emerged over the last 24 hours that his condition is not cancer at all - rather he has been existing for some time now in nothing short of a self-delusion. In the words of another famous song 'it's a sad, sad situation.' The guy has conned his church, his friends, even his wife and family. Very, very sad.
I actually got a phonecall about 48 hours ago to break the news to me as I'd used the clip in a talk at church on Sunday - something I won't be doing again of course. As I write I'm at the Soul Survivor 'Momentum' festival where Mike Pilavachi this morning broke the news to a stunned audience. He confessed to the thousands of students and young adults that his first reaction had been to comment to a close friend 'It just goes to show, you can't trust anyone anymore.' That friend was wise enough to reply 'Mike, that's exactly what Satan wants you to believe.'
And it's true, we all know where lies and deception originate and it's not with God. At the end of the day whilst I feel sad about this I don't feel rocked in the slightest. It was quite some time now that I realised that every circus has its clowns. Every genuine move of God will attract the damaged and deluded as well as the solid and sincere. The challenge is spotting the difference which can be very difficult to do.

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Healer



This clip connects with something deep down in me. Maybe I love it because it illustrates that intersection in life between faith and 'reality'. Maybe I love it because it's a great example of how we live in the time of 'now but not yet'. Maybe I love it because it's not an overly simplified testimony of 'zap-pow' healing. Whatever, I really love this clip.

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Monday, August 11, 2008

The Best Song Lyrics In The Universe... EVER!

OK, so we all cringe during the adverts at yet another over-hyped compilation album promising to whip us up into a frenzy of ecstasy/nostalgia/romance. And of course how can they ever deliver on these promises. But I wonder what songs would be on a compilation album that put together the 10 best opening song lines ever written? I love words, especially lyrics, with a passion (which is probably why I hate the majority of contemporary worship songs) and so having been blessed with a long weekend of doing not very much I have a few suggestions to make. I'd love to hear what yours would be.

1. Depeche Mode, Enjoy the silence: "Words like violence break the silence, come crashing in, into my little world"
2. Oasis, What's the story morning glory: "All your dreams are made when you're chained to the mirror and the razor blade"
3. Coldplay, Clocks: "Lights go out and I can't be saved, tides that I tried to swim against"
4. U2, Crumbs from your table: "From the brightest star comes the blackest hole"
5. Prince, Sign o the times: "In France a skinny man died of a big disease with a little name"

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Saturday, August 09, 2008

Connectedness


Trade justice campaigners will sometimes ask us to pause and think about the question, ‘If your clothes could tell a story, what would that story say?’. And we know that if we shop at Primark the story probably isn’t likely to be a happy one for the producer of the garment. But just the other day I was presented with a new twist on this. I’d taken a day off work to go and visit my elderly Gran over in Yorkshire. We don’t get to see her very often and she likes to see how quickly Izzy is growing up.
When we got to her little council bungalow she was sat outside the front door on her electro-scooter thing (she has very bad arthritis in her feet and can’t walk very well). We went inside for a cuppa and there as usual was a pile of knitting on the sofa. Gran is always knitting, there’s lots of great-grand kids appearing on the scene at the moment so she’s kept busy. But just in passing she said, ‘Oh, they’re for the kids in Darfur.’ I was pretty stunned. Gran has never to my knowledge shown any interest in any sort of charitable work, she’s not churchy either. But there, in her lonely little lounge (Granddad passed away 5 years ago) she is quietly doing her bit to make a difference in the world.
If only those little hats could tell their story. Soon, some tiny little refugee kid, displaced, disconnected, will be given a little wooly hat to keep out the cool evening breeze. And in a strangely cosmic way that kid becomes connected to my aging Gran. That's cool isn't it, 'One World - One Dream', as the Chinese were so keen to stress as the opening ceremony of the Olympics yesterday. Except none of the kids wearing my Gran's wooly hats will ever know about her, which is a real shame. And she'll never meet them, which is a shame too. 


Clothes really ought to be able to tell their story. 

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Noticably Absent

OK, contemporary worship songs are an easy target for criticism, unimaginative in tabulation and lyrically retarded. That's not saying anything new. But something else has dawned on me and it's not just the new songs that suffer from this - the old hymns fall into the same trap too. In seeking to capture something of the glory of God reference is frequently made to created things. But only certain categories of creation. Skies, stars, trees, seas - all that stuff may well be employed to draw our attention to the One behind it. And then by way of metaphor we may well be asked to consider the sentient world - the eagle, the lion, the lamb. My question is this: if humanity is the pinnacle of all God has made why are we entirely absent from the language of worship? Are we so overwhelmed by our falleness that we can't celebrate the God-image within us? Or are we worried that we might mistake such celebration for celebrity and become the objects of our own worship?

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Mañana

Tomorrow the Wilson's will be heading off to Spain for a fortnight - I can't wait, the last few weeks have been seriously hectic! Apart from lots of family time and sampling a few fine Rioja's I'm looking forward to spending a couple of days at the ContraCorriente youth festival which will be taking place just south of Madrid. I so wish I'd persevered at my last attempt to learn Spanish but after weeks of listening to podcasts before my last trip out there I fell to pieces within about 1 minute of trying to chat to a taxi driver taking me from the airport to my hotel. One day I'll crack it though - I hate being a stereotypical monoligual Brit abroad. Speaking through an interpreter should be fun though, I'm planning on keeping my talks very visual using props and stuff to get the points across. How my story of nearly getting struck by lighting on an Indian beach will translate I'm really not sure!
The day before the Euro 2008 cup final (which I really hope Spain get to and win) I'll be taking a group out onto the streets of the town to do a bit of face to face mission with the local youth. I'll be seeing how a little idea I've used here in Manchester travels across the cultural divide. One of the challenges in short term mission in getting over the superficial 'How ya doin' and into a more meaningful conversation. It struck me a few weeks ago that maybe a cool way to get chatting to people, especially young people into the alternative scene would be to offer to do them a tattoo, with body paint. So I came up with some tribal designs and a bunch of words in gothic text and took them out to an event. It went down a storm and it was such a buzz to see young people walking round proudly displaying on their bodies words like: LOVED... CHOSEN... ETERNAL... HOPE.... It's a bit like being a hairdresser or something, they just sit there and happily chat until the job's done. The whole thing has a totally prophetic dimension too, it's a declaration of God's truth right there as close as you can possibly get. Part of me wishes I had a proper needle kit so they wouldn't be able to wash it off later! Anyway, I've had a translation done into Spanish and we're going to give it a whirl. Who knows, maybe it'll work ;-)

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Womb of Wonders

Church gatherings are a frustration to millions of people all over the world. Yes, there's millions more people who get their socks blessed off week in week out but the frustrated bunch are a sizeable contingent within the overall crowd. I think I stray in and out of both these camps fairly frequently. Most of this can probably be slotted under the broad statement often used in struggling relationships, "It's not you, it's me". But some of it isn't me.
On my journey of the last few years I've found that one of the hardest things about departing from an established form of church to try to create something new is to keep alive the inner hope that what you've glimpsed with the eyes of faith really is possible. It's really easy for the exciting newness, which will always be followed by a starker reality, to slide into an overall atmosphere of resignation. The little voice that whispers, "Actually, that thing you used to be part of, that's as good as it gets."
But I remain convinced of this: there is a point to communities of Christians gathering together regularly. What is that point? No less than this: Jesus intends his church to be a 'womb of wonders'. What I mean by that is - whenever his people gather in his name, with generous hearts, heeding the wisdom of the apostle Paul from 1 Cor 14:26, then all the potential of the resurrection morning is there too. Everyone present has the potential within them to contribute to the creation of the miracle environment. That should be our expectation. And expectation is far more than just waiting for something to happen, for some divine gift to land in our lap; God has designed us to be more than mere recipients of miracles, he has given us the potential to be initiators of new creation in the here and now.
And that’s how I'm trying to think of church, specifically in its gathered form. I'm beginning, all over again, to expect that my offering, however tentative and humble, however broken I may be, can trigger a chain-reaction. My hunch is that God is also cultivating that attitude in many others too, stirring a shared expectation that as we make our faltering efforts to show grace to one another Christ himself will rush to join in, enthusiastically pouring out his blessing amongst us.

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Saturday, June 07, 2008

Out of Sync

For years now I've been using PDAs as my second brain (some would say first brain!) A month or so ago I got another upgrade only to find out that it was perhaps a downgrade. The trouble is that it won't sync properly with my desktop computer at work. This is a nightmare for me as I'm not only always on the move adding stuff in myself, there are also 3 admin staff back at the office all with edit access too. If my desk-brain doesn't match my mobile-brain things go wrong.
Yesterday I met some great people in East London, John and Deanna Hayes, with their colleague and co-conspirator Darren Prince. They're at the heart of a global movement called InnerChange - a network with a lot of similarities to the the network I'm involved with which is called Eden. One thing struck me deeply about these guys (apart from the fact they seemed to prefer sitting on the floor to sitting on the sofa) - after decades of incarnational ministry in some of the world's poorest neighbourhoods they looked and spoke not as jaded or weary but as overflowing with hope and spiritual vitality.
And here's where we go back to the PDA and the desktop. You see, it's so easy to fall into a dualism. Ministry is one dimension of our life. Subsistence is another totally different dimension. Ministry involves the things we do for others, the things we sense to be within the sphere of our 'calling', it carries a certain attitude and outlook. Subsistence begins with the baseline of our own human needs but then ripples out to include our busyness and our relaxation, our aspirations and our anxieties. Many of us try to 'sync' these different spaces in our lives and we may do so with varying levels of success. When both sides are in harmony things feel good , there's a completeness. When the two clash there's the accompanying emotional struggle.
The thing was, when I met the InnerChange guys yesterday I simply got the sense that they don't have this dualism going on at all. They have simply found a way, perhaps by accident, perhaps by design, to live a fully integrated life in which daily subsistence weaves with devoted ministry.
John gave me a copy of his new book Sub-merge: Living Deep in a Shallow World- I'm about halfway through already, it's a really cracking read. The presence of the word merge is in the title is a big clue that these guys have really discovered something special in this area of living an integrated missional lifestyle. Needless to say I'm looking forward to seeing them again.

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Sunday, June 01, 2008

Accusers of the brothers

"Your mother is a necromancer!"
It was at that point that I realised there would be absolutely no reasoning or meeting on common ground with these black-clad, finger-pointing, prophets of doom. The words were directed at one of my close friends, a colleague of the last ten years. We'd wandered over to the far corner of an outdoor youth event we put on yesterday in Manchester city centre having heard reports that some guys were handing out pamphlets dissing us as heretics and apostates. It hadn't escaped my attention that a website has been running a smear campaign against our work and I had my suspicions that the people behind this might one day show up in person. However, to finally meet these virtual personalities in the flesh was quite an experience.
Over the years I've become used to the daily grind of working in environments that are hostile to the gospel but have not really encountered any direct assault from others who also call themselves Christians. That's perhaps all the more remarkable considering the extensive networking I do within the wider church. Largely, even when I meet people with whom there is clearly a degree of disagreement about doctrinal issues there is a measure of grace evident upon which we can agree to disagree. So I must admit I was shocked to encounter at close quarters what appeared to be fully matured hatred spilling from the mouth of someone claiming to know Jesus. One of the two guys, the one who accused my friend's mum (the most faithful, saintly lady on the planet) a witch was literally shaking and trembling as he spluttered out one accusation after another. As you might imagine, after a few minutes of graciously pleading with these guys to please do something more constructive with their time we turned our backs on them and walked away.
Part of me really wants to name and shame this group but I sense the Holy Spirit restricting me from doing that so that no more fuel is added to the arson these deeply deranged people are trying to commit within God's house.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Cold hearts, sick minds

I'm on a bit of a heavy train of thought at the moment. It may have been triggered by a TV programme I watched yesterday about the great Spanish artist Goya. In the latter years of his life, following his witnessing the atrocities of Napoleon's invasion, his work became very dark and grotesque. In particular I think I resonated with Goya's sense of hopelessness in the face of mans inhumanity to man!
The recent news story about the UN aid workers and peace keepers perpetrating child abuse has both incensed and depressed me in equal measure. I struggle to conceive how one human being can treat another in this way. How can a human hearts become so cold as to commit such acts? How can human minds become so depraved to offer no resistance of conscience? Perhaps this is what Jesus was getting at when he told the crowds that anyone who says ‘Raca’ to his brother should be brought before the highest court in the land. That little Aramaic phrase simulates a retching of the throat prior to spitting – it’s an expression of utter contempt. And I do worry that this is where the headlines start, with the variety of ways and means through which even kids are taught the language of hate. At this point I’m reminded of the writings of De Touqeville, particularly his reflections on the newly emerging American nation:
“The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men, all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest; his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind. As for the rest of his fellow citizens, he is close to them, but he does not see them; he touches them, but he does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone.”
Because my job often takes me into the most deprived communities in the city I often see the seedlings of this kind of attitude. Some young people I meet will have a firmly rooted stance that everyone outside their inner circle is a nobody (and of course there are categories below nobody but you wouldn’t want to be in them). Sadly these young people are likely to be making their own headlines sooner or later, for all the wrong reasons.

And so, and yet, with all that as a backdrop, I absolutely love the gospel. The pure, joyous and just gospel of Jesus of Nazareth who gave his life so that a new community could be born. And I love being part of that community, the church, in which I can be held accountable for my attitudes and hopefully keep my own heart from freezing over. And I want that community to grow and grow, because I see little hope for the world if it doesn't.

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Wayside Pulpit

Driving around the city on a daily basis there are all sorts of things that catch my eye. Some of these things are clever, or beautiful, or original. Some aren't. In the second category are those gaudy, florescent signs found outside churches aka the 'Wayside Pulpit'. Just down the road from my house a new sign has gone up, bright yellow background with black writing in foot high block caps: "ALL WELCOME HERE" It's perhaps the most unwelcoming sign imaginable. And herein lies the problem. It's not just that local PCCs or whoever commissions these signs seem utterly unaware that technology has moved on to the extent that a full colour digitally printed poster would actually be a cheaper solution. No, there is a common tone of voice that seems present wherever the Wayside Pulpit is found.
I was driving down the A6 through Stockport the other day and saw a sign that must get at least 100,000 cars driving past it everyday: "JESUS CAME INTO THE WORLD TO SAVE SINNERS". It was classic of the paradigm within which all these posters seems to exist, US vs THEM. A line is drawn and rather than stepping over it in an outwards motion the slogans expect the reader to cross over and move inwards. The Stockport sign is a classic example. How different would the tone of voice be if the whole of 1 Tim 1:15 was quoted, "Jesus came into the world to save sinners - of whom I am the worst." Rather than emphasising to passing commuters just how different they are, SINNERS not SAVED, a message like this might just be able to build a tentative association... "YOU + US, we're not that different, we have stuff in common, it might be worth us taking this conversation further..."

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Information Overload

videoI've spent the past couple of days in London. While I was there I got chance to take a look at the Cans Festival 'Exhibition' which is just a short walk from Waterloo Station. It's the kind of place you could easily spend a whole day, but I only had about half an hour to spare so it was the briefest of glances. As you walk through the tunnel the colour, wit and propaganda leaps out from every painted brick. Most of the pieces in the 'fat end' of the tunnel were pretty large works, painstakingly executed. But at the far end, just beyond the bend and back in the daylight, was a whole patchwork quilt of smaller stencils, hardly a single square inch of the concrete was visible. I reckon there must've been a few hundred artists who'd gone to town on it. 

As I stood there taking in a 360 view I sensed my mind beginning to 'zoom out'. There was just too much information, it was too much to process. I started wondering if I was actually surveying not just a randomly assorted mish-mash of artists but actually a single, powerful, metaphor of the world we now inhabit. Our senses are struggling to cope with information overload. There are so many messages, so many voices demanding our attention. Yes there's a heck of a lot of crap - but it's such well packaged crap - how do we begin to discern the good from the bad, the worthy from the pointless? And perhaps most relevant to a blogger like me, if we feel we actually have something to say, how do we cut through the crap and get noticed? 

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Dream Big, Live Small

Last week whilst he was with us in Manchester Shane Claiborne used a really catchy little phrase that I think I'm going to adopt as my own: 'Dream Big, Live Small'. My thoughts have been quite occupied recently with how I prevent my life getting 'bigger' year on year. I think this may be because last year was such a dramatic year of growth, which bugs me. Our growing family meant we moved from a little 2 bed apartment to a full blown 3 bed house, and in the process I bought a new car, which happened to be bigger than the old one (again a family thing, boot space etc). But basically I'm hoping that this is as big as we'll get. I'm hoping that the Wilson's have 'topped out' in terms of bigness. Indeed I'm even thinking about how I can take a benchmark of our current bigness (e.g. utilities used, recycling achieved, miles driven etc.) so that I can actually prove to myself that I'm not still expanding 2 or 3 years from now but hopefully contracting and reducing. 
Yesterday I was surfing from blog to blog, following the links to see where I'd end up and I stumbled upon a sort of cool, American emerging church type with a motto emblazoned on his header image: 'LIVE VENTI'. For those unfamiliar with Starbucks lingo it's the biggest size they do (20 oz / 600ml) - it's their equivalent of McDonald's Supersize (now banned I think). There was a photo of this guy, looking cool, not fat at all. It was then that Shane's catchphrase popped back into my mind. If Shane were to go all Starbucks on us tomorrow (which isn't likely to happen is it) that would mean he might start saying 'DREAM VENTI, LIVE SHORT' (short being Starbuck's smallest size). And therein lies a profound difference. 
If we're to live lives inspired and informed by the life and Spirit of Jesus we will indeed aspire to great things, venti things - but not for our own gratification. This isn't about my venti house, my venti car, my venti coffee, my venti anything! In an over-crowded, under-resourced world we should dare to dream venti dreams, like seeing wars end, clean water for all and trade becoming just. But we should also to take a long hard look at our own footprint on the world and ensure that we're not undermining our own aspirations with our default venti consumer lifestyles. Let's have a revolution of thought like the one brought about by the famous 1960 VW ad that flew in the face of the zeitgeist of the day and showed another way...

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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Holier than Thou

   I just finished 'Eat This Book' by Eugene Peterson, translator of 'The Message' version of the bible. What a stunning piece of work! As I've already said in my Amazon review, Peterson is a writer at the peak of his craft, such that 'I found myself re-reading lines and phrases just for the sheer pleasure of letting the words dance again through my mind'.
  The final chapter of the book was particularly fascinating as in it he deals with the whole subject of translation and interpretation. This immediately intrigued me as it offered insights into why on earth anybody in their right mind would want to use the King James version as their daily bible of choice. Take it's history for starters, the old King James version, dating back to 1611, was largely produced to trump the 1526 English New Testament that was in general circulation after being painstaking translated by William Tyndale in such a way that 'the boy that driveth the plough' would be able to comprehend it. King James has other ideas about religion - and social cohesion. His team of translators worked hard to ensure that their work gathered unto itself a majestic aloof-ness from the dirt of daily life.
   Now then, there's more to delve into here. As you ought to know, the New Testament is written in Greek. But there's more than one version of Greek. The Greek spoken 2000 years ago is not the Greek spoken today. It's similar, but different. The Greek written 2000 years ago is not the Greek written today, it's different again, in various ways. The key difference we need to pay attention to is not the difference between then and now but the difference between spoken and written Greek 2000 years ago. The Greeks loved literature and philosophy, and they reflected their esteem for it in the highly polished form of writing they used to record and communicate their ideas on paper. And here's the twist, for countless centuries the New Testament text was understood by means of translation using the language of classical (attic) Greek - that was the only written form of Greek that could be found in the libraries of the Roman world and the societies that followed after the great Empire's collapse. But there was a big problem for the translators. Of the 5000 words used in the New Testament's, about 500 could not be found anywhere in classical written Greek. What were these strange words. Well of course, they must be special 'holy' words, the language of angels, the special communications of the Spirit. Or so 'inspired' translators speculated. After all, how could the Word Of God be penned in anything other than the finest of vocabularies?
   Time passed and eventually Archaeology came into vogue and intrepid diggers set off on globe-trotting endeavours bringing to light all manner of artifacts that shed new light on the ancient world of the bible. One such discovery was made in 1897 by a couple of Brits underneath a rubbish dump on the outskirts of an unassuming village called Oxyrhynchus, 160 miles upstream along the Nile from Cairo. They brought up, preserved and intact, 27 papyrus documents that would revolutionize bible translation. 27 pieces of utterly ancient Greek text - but far from classical library Greek. Closer inspection would reveal this to be the greatest ever find of common street Greek (koine) from the time of Jesus. And guess what. Those 500 missing words in the New Testament. Koine. Common street Greek. Far from being the language of angels or special holy words God had entrusted his sacred revelation to the language of the marketplace and the fields, not the language of the temples and the academies. 

   So why should we join the company of William Tyndale, J.B. Phillips and Eugene Peterson in ensuring that scripture is always available in the language of the plough-boy? Because that's exactly what you'd expect of the true and living Word who 'became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood.' 

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Monday, April 28, 2008

American Idol does Hillsong



I think I should be happy about this but instead it just gives me the creeps. Can anyone offer a diagnosis as to why?

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Letter from God


The notes accompanying this little movie on YouTube state "This poem isn't actually about religion. It is kind of irrelevant to the piece whether or not you believe in God or a God or anything like that. That's not the point......"
I disagree, it seems to be totally about religion, specifically the way that religion plays God, but blatantly isn't God.

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Reading the bible is dangerous

Reading the Bible, if we do not do it rightly, can get us into a lot of trouble. The Christian community is as concerned with how we read the Bible as that we read it. It is not sufficient to place a Bible in a person's hands with the command, "Read it." That is quite as foolish as putting a set of keys in an adolescent's hands, giving him a Honda, and saying, "Drive it." And just as dangerous. The danger is that in having our hands on a piece of technology, we will use it ignorantly, endangering our lives and the lives of those around us; or that, intoxicated with the power that technology gives us, we will use it ruthlessly and violently.
For print is technology. We pick up a Bible and find that we have God's word in our hands, our hands. We can now handle it. It is easy enough to suppose that we are in control of it, that we can use it, that we are in charge of applying it wherever, whenever, and to whomever we wish without regard to appropriateness or conditions.
There is more to the Honda than the technology of mechanics. And there is more to the Bible than the technology of print. Surrounding the machine technology of the Honda there is the world of gravity and inertia, values and velocity, surfaces and obstructions, Chevrolets and Fords, traffic regulations and the highway patrol, other drivers whether drunk or sober, snow and ice and rain. There is more to driving a car than turning a key in the ignition and stepping on the accelerator. Those who don't know that are soon dead or maimed.
And those who don't know the conditions implicit in the technology of the Bible are likewise dangerous to themselves and others. And so, as we hand out Bibles and urge people to read them, it is imperative that we say, caveat lector, let the reader beware.

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Stretching the Truth


'Stretching the truth' is a turn of phrase that you might use to describe a kid who is trying to give a plausible excuse to her maths teacher for why she hasn't done her homework on time. But does truth actually possess elastic qualities? Can it be stretched? If truth isn't elastic does that render it brittle? If it is, does it have an elastic limit beyond which it will... snnaaAP!
These questions are important to me because of the faith-journey I find myself on. I feel like I'm in a very dynamic place where there's a lot of movement going on, movement that I'm part of. (a dance?) It's very different from where I was a few years ago which felt a lot like standing on sinking sand. But with so much movement all around the challenge is to locate those fixed points that offer reliable orientation and prevent the onset of nausea!
I'll be having some friends round on Saturday morning to talk about this sort of stuff. I'm really looking forward to it, especially as there will be a whole range of positions and perspectives represented. Where will we end up? I really don't know, but that's the exciting thing. I don't know if the truth can be stretched, but I can, I want to be.

"Faith alone is certainty. Everything but faith is subject to doubt. Jesus Christ alone is the certainty of faith." Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Beeb's Passion

I've just finished watching the final episode of The Passion on BBC One. It's been a great little series, the recreation of ancient Jerusalem felt particularly convincing (of course how would I know what ancient Jerusalem looked like!). The emphasis on the three way power struggle was a great angle on the story, particularly the Caiaphas character. I loved the tension between the protectors of the present order, Pilate representing the political and military might of Rome and Caiaphas representing the religious and cultural establishment of the Jewish homeland, both under threat by the stranger from Galilee who speaks of a new way and a new world. It reminded me again of the contagious revolutionary DNA Jesus carried.
But today is Easter Sunday, and ever since the first episode I've been feeling that this series would ultimately stand or fall by how well the resurrection was rendered. So what do I think? Well hey, a damn sight better than Jesus Christ Superstar which doesn't even include the resurrection, and I hesitate to say, even better than Mel Gibson's version with it's short but very sweet resurrection moment from inside the tomb looking out. Even so, it was still a tad underwhelming. The producer, Nigel Stafford-Clark, references Mark's gospel as his key source which may well be the problem, it's probably the least potent of the four resurrection accounts. If only he'd taken a broader creative approach the scenes could've been so much stronger, even simple touches like the location and the lighting would've helped as the dusty old hillside he used just had zero atmosphere. However, what saved it for me was the inclusion of the Emmaus road encounter (albeit with James and Matthew). I did find it genuinely moving to see their reaction as the guy they're eating with starts to break bread and then reveals his true face before their eyes.

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Friday, March 14, 2008

Ssssh... don't mention the resurrection!

This afternoon I popped along to the Manchester leg of the EA sponsored tour exploring the subject of the Resurrection. Here in Manchester we got Prof Gary Habermas, an able scholar, but sadly minus his stellar counterpart Tom Wright who has appeared at many of the other dates. The first session began promisingly with an opening reference to 1 Corinthians 15, but then sadly descended into a ramble about the common ground that exists between conservatives, moderates and liberals when it comes to the teaching of the resurrection in the writings of 'the big 4' (Habermas' reference to Paul, Peter, John and James).
I cornered said Prof over coffee and pressed him for a preview of his second session, hoping to hear that he would indeed be getting into 1 Corinthians 15 or material of that ilk. Sadly not. We had a helpful chat about the impact of the bodily resurrection of Jesus on discipleship in the here and now but I could not coax him into a discussion about why the personal resurrection beliefs of the early church have been sidelined more recently for a woolly expectation of the soul drifting off at death to spend eternity in heaven. Even when I pitched a carefully worded question in the public forum later on, Prof Habermas and two other able theologians all seemed to fail to grasp what I was getting at. It really does seem that there are very few people alert to the fact that it's almost taboo for contemporary Christians to speak of their hopes about their own future bodily resurrection.
I popped round to my dad's later and asked him what he thought. After pondering for a minute he said that the last time, and only time, he had ever heard anyone preach on future bodily resurrection was 30 years ago! That seriously needs to change.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Passion Week



I'm really looking forward to the BBC miniseries due to start on Sunday. There is no greater drama than those scenes surrounding Jesus of Nazareth during that fateful Passover festival 2000 years ago. For a few short days the Jerusalem air was filled with a heady cocktail of parody, irony, anger, love, justice, corruption, betrayal, loss, hope and belief. The world has never been the same.

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Sunday, March 09, 2008

Douggie hits the Top 40!


What a glorious day, the most persevering of would-be popstars Doug Walker has finally made it into the Top 40! Am I happy because now I can claim some kind of cool-by-association? Well yes, I probably will dig the wedding video out of the basement, not everybody has a Top 40 artist singing for them (yes OK Anna you pulled KT Tunstall out of the bag which has yet to be bettered). No, I'm really happy because Doug is a top bloke who has invested in his God-given talents as a musician and a songwriter and has reached the place where he is producing material that belongs in the Top 40, Top 20, Top 10 even. In particular I could wax on about the lyrics all day because he's really caught something special but instead I'll just invite you to:
a) listen and enjoy, and
b)
go straight to iTunes and buy The Mystery now!

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Say One Thing


I've heard it said that whenever you're faced with a live TV or Radio opportunity the golden rule is to first think hard about what you want to say and then whatever question you're asked turn it around to say what you want to say. You can see politicians doing it every day on the 6 o'clock news. In practice its a heck of a lot harder to do than you might think. This morning I was interviewed on the BBC Radio Manchester breakfast show, it was a really good slot just before the news at 8. It seemed to open well enough, although I was worried that I perhaps came over a bit defensive at first. Then, fairly quickly we seemed to get taken away on a conversational detour away from the One Thing I really wanted to say. And the thing is, when you're the guest, the interviewer really is in the driving seat, it's really hard to steer it back on track.
So what was the One Thing I really wanted to get across? Well, I was really hoping I'd get a chance to talk about the way that whilst faith is always personal, it's never private. Nice little media-friendly soundbite there too. But it wasn't to be. Hang about, what am I saying, "It wasn't to be" - what a dumb fatalistic expression. Truth is, I missed the moment and am left feeling a tad gutted about that. If you were listening feel free to score my performance out of 10. If the general consensus was that yes, it was the worst moment in contemporary broadcasting history then in the immortal words of Tony Wilson (the other Tony Wilson, not my dad), "I'll commit suicide by throwing myself off my own ego."

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

"...but this is a Christian nation!"

"...but this is a Christian nation!" So ends another whining diatribe against the latest secular or islamic or humanistic or homo-erotic or politically correct initiative / incident / news story.
Two things collided this week to remind me again just how misguided these passionately held sentiments are. Firstly, I've been reading the Old Testament books of Jeremiah and Daniel, alongside Brueggemann's 'The Prophetic Imagination'. Then, midweek, Channel 4 showed 'Kingdom of Heaven' and whilst the film as a whole was largely a disappointment to me it was still thought provoking on a number of levels. At one point in the film Jeremy Irons delivers a line about Jerusalem (and I wish I could remember it) that evokes the contradiction at the heart of that much used phrase "Christian nation." The blood that has been shed over that dusty bit of land is utterly heinous. Jesus himself made it absolutely clear that his intention was not to establish a Kingdom with geographic borders but a Kingdom defined by a Way of life, exemplified by people of every ethnos living in relationship with him and harmony with one another.
And where do Jeremiah and Daniel fit into that? Well they are just two of the characters we meet in the grand timeline of biblical history who are doing exactly what we (Christians in 21st Century Britain) ought to be doing - working out by our daily choices and actions exactly what it means to honour God and live for him in the midst of a society that revolves around a very different centre of gravity. The quirk of global history known as Christendom is over and we find ourselves living out the same question as our biblical forebears - those who sweated in Egypt, wept in Babylon and faced down Caesar's lions... "How can we prove the value of our convictions over-against the current socio-political backdrop?"

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Emergent, Evangelical, Fundamentalist

In the context of my recent blog entries and the various comments they have provoked, I chuckled when this little cartoon appeared in the footer of an email I received today...

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Location of Evil


It's been dawning on me of late that we live in a world that teaches us to always locate evil outside of ourselves. This is manifest in the blame culture, the demonization of certain people groups and sub-cultures and the blatant hypocrisy of mass media. And this isn't just a problem that resides in secular society, the church is equally possessing of this worldview. We have a particularly effective way of ensuring we are not troubled by the thought that something within us may be wrong. Religious imagination weaves a spell constructing a Satan with powers out of all proportion with the character described in the pages of scripture. He is omnipresent, he knows our thoughts, he afflicts us with sicknesses of body, mind and spirit. Before long we actually begin to shift our focus away from the author and perfecter of our faith and begin addressing our prayers to this imposter - beckoning him nearer by the volume of our declarations that he must flee.
It is two millenia since the Master first warned us that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him unclean, rather 'all these evils come from inside' (see Mark 7). Why then do we still fail to allow the transformational potential of these words to affect our discipleship? Are we so blinkered by pride that we fail to see that the seeds of every human evil lie dormant below the carefully raked topsoil of our hearts. I hope not but fear so. Don't get me wrong, I don't expect every believer to walk around in a state of permanent shame and unworthiness, I just want to hear less blaming of the devil for issues that are self-generated and need dealing with honestly in the privacy of the 'secret place'.

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Part 3 of the satire triptych

This won't make any sense unless you've seen the other 2 first so scroll down to get with it...

emergaholic

Thanks to fensterbme for the original shot

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More satire...

The second installment in my little foray into satire, and an effort to balance the scales somewhat ;-)

libshrinks

Thanks to Lean Makin for the original shot

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Friday, February 08, 2008

Fundatherapists

Stimulated by a conversation with a mate in the pub last night I have decided to pluck up some courage and try a little bit of satire...

fundatherapist

Thanks to assbach for the original image.

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Monday, February 04, 2008

Contagious holiness


In contrast to the traditional view that uncleanness was contagious, Jesus regarded holiness as contagious. The physician is not overcome by those who are ill, but rather overcomes their illness. Thus Jesus touches people who have leprosy, or who are unclean or sick or women, without fear of contamination. Jesus is not rendered unclean by the contact; rather, those whom society regarded as defiled are made clean. Holiness, he saw, was not something to be protected; rather, it was God's miraculous power of transformation. God's holiness cannot be soiled; rather, it is a cleansing and healing agent. It does not need to be shut up and quarantined in the temple; it is now, through Jesus' healings and fellowship with the despised and rejected, breaking out into the world to transform it.

Walter Wink, The Powers That be: Theology for a New Millennium

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