Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Asylum Stories / Parliament Protest / Us?

This is a great site telling the stories of destitute asylum seekers click the pic to check it out

And these guys are putting their tent where their mouth is -
Ben and Ben the Protest Men are upset, really upset.
They’re upset about the way Britain treats asylum seekers and have decided to do something about it.
They have decided to go and live at Parliament Square (outside the Houses of Parliament) for 2 weeks in October to campaign to end the destitution of refused Asylum Seekers.

Click here to find out more from the blog they are doing during the protest and why not send them some encouragement.
It's nearly a year since some of us did our DIY adventure and climbed all c14,000ft of Mt Toubkal in Morocco to raise money for AssistSheffield. I want to do another challenge next year so let me know if you are up for it?

Monday, 29 September 2008

Action for the poorest is possible!

Sentamu’s done it again -a particularly germane comment on our present economic crisis that merits a post in its own right:

the President of the United States recently announced a $700 billion bailout plans for banks and financial institutions. One of the ironies about this financial crisis is that it makes action on poverty look utterly achievable. It would cost $5 billion to save six million children's lives. World leaders could find 140 times that amount for the banking system in a week. How can they now tell us that action for the poorest on the planet is too expensive?"

God's reply?

What do you think God's reply would be?

Thanks to naked pastor - see links for more of his great stuff

Thursday, 25 September 2008

The Long View

The Long View

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church's mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation
in realizing that. This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well. It may be incomplete,
but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference
between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

Attributed to Archbishop Oscar Romero


If we do a meet in Oct then maybe we could make it a STAND UP event.

Stand Up and Take Action is a global mobilisation to end poverty and inequality. Last year, 43.7 million people joined Stand Up worldwide, setting a new world record.

This year, help us break that record and send an even louder message to governments.Join the global movement of people who refuse to stay seated or silent in the face of poverty and broken promises to end it!

This year, we are asking people to Stand Up and Take Action between Friday 17 and Sunday 19 October 2008.
I am up for helping organising it if anyone fancies it?
Click the logo above for more details.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

A surprising poem of hope

Perhaps this is in part a response to Mark's post below. It was on Jesus Manifesto (good guys good guys) and was inspired by NT Wright's book Surprised by Hope (I have a spare copy if anyone wants to borrow it?).
The Kingdom of Heaven has captured my heart
the more I feel it’s power take root
the more I yearn for Beauty and Justice

Today, I thought about buying a building
something old, abandoned, ugly
and turning it into a castle for the Kingdom

A sanctuary
stain glass replacing iron bars
a hedge of roses instead of the fence that everyone expects in this neighborhood…

I want to see a sick person get well again
not so they’ll listen to me, or attend my church, or go to heaven
but so they can know, like I know - the kingdom of heaven is near

I want to be a portal to an alternate universe a stitch where the fabrics of heaven and earth are sewn close
I want to write the most beautiful words I can imagine
and paint them on a billboard over ads for beer and cheeseburgers

I want to walk these city streets till all the walls crumble
build porches for all my neighbors
and sit and talk about how great the Kingdom is starting to look.

Monday, 22 September 2008

How long is soon?

In school today, I showed pupils a video in which a Pentecostal teenager explains what Pentecostal believe. Within the list of beliefs she said, "We believe Jesus is soon coming". After the video a pupil put up her hand and asked,
"How long have they been waiting for Jesus to come?"
"About 2,000 years", I said.
"I don't think he's coming!", he replied.
Another pupil put up his hand, "What is 'soon'? Surely 'soon' can't be 2,000 years?"
Finally, a third pupil raised her hand, "How can people believe things that are just not true?"

I thought it was an interesting interchange. The pupils had clearly cottoned on to the absurdity of a belief that Jesus will come soon, when 2,000 years of history appears to prove otherwise. Yet, Paul certainly appears to have believed that Jesus was soon coming. (1 Thess. 4:17) The way we change this to mean that he could come at any time in the future, is altering what Paul believed. How would you respond to these pupils? How do you understand the 2nd Coming after 2,000 years of failing to materialise? What relevance does it have to our lives?

Sunday, 21 September 2008

scandalous gospel of Jesus

Always the poor

(Click on image to see text)
I’ve always struggled with that bit in the gospels where Jesus says, “you always have the poor with you.” (Matthew 26:11) It seems so out of place with both Jesus and the story it comes in.

The story itself appears to make a lot of sense, apart from that bit. It starts with chief priests and elders of the law plotting the covert arrest of Jesus. Next, Jesus is placed in the house of Simon the Leper! The location is hardly inconsequential. Jesus is rehabilitating a leper, treating an outcast with human dignity by eating at his table. In a society where lepers were expelled from the city, to eat at his table is remarkably humanising.

Then, in startling contrast to the elders and chief priests, a woman shows real love and care for Jesus. She pours expensive perfume on Jesus’ head (quite odd if you ask me!) Somehow Jesus sees this as providing his body with a proper burial. (again, slightly odd) One of the reasons crucifixion was considered shameful was because the deceased were seldom buried. They were usually simply left for carrion or thrown on a rubbish tip. It was a point of enormous anxiety that Jesus’ body would be so shamefully treated. Whether or not the woman literally knew that Jesus was to be crucified, we can, at least, see in this gesture an attempt to give human dignity to a man who is about to be denied it. She gives Jesus the kind of dignity he was giving the leper and modelled throughout his life. He knew he could go to his grave knowing that at this juncture in his life he was cared for and his body, in a way, embalmed.

I also love the way Jesus (as usual) defends a woman (who would have experienced put downs from men on a regular basis) from the disciples’ criticisms. “Why are you bothering this woman?” he asks.

Yet, for all that is liberating and inspiring about all this, I’ve always thought Jesus’ words, “The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me with you” appear to undo it all. They sound like an excuse for not prioritizing the needs of the poor in our giving and our politics. It seems to justify some kind of worship of Jesus, over against providing for the needy. It seems so out of step with the Jesus who came to “fill the hungry with good things” (Luke 1:53).
Jesus is quoting from Deuteronomy 15:11,
"There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be open-handed toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in the land."
In Deuteronomy the on-going presence of the poor means that there must be on-going, structural relief for them. Jesus, though, appears to turn this upside down: the on-going presence of the poor means that the poor can be helped later – poverty will never be history, so don’t get too hung up on it.

But, here’s where I had an epiphany…It suddenly occurred to me: Who is the poor in this story? Isn’t Jesus the needy one - about to be made a victim of cruel crucifixion and potentially left to the mercy of the elements? Is not Jesus the one whose humanity is about to be denied him? Yet, the disciples show no concern. One of them, Judas, is about to betray him for money. When a gesture of appreciation and love is shown Jesus, all they do is shun it. What’s more, they talk about the poor in the abstract – no names are mentioned, no human face is put to them. “The poor?”, says Jesus, “who are they? You don’t even know any. Don’t talk to me about the abstract needy, especially when you have a real living one right in front of you, for whom you are showing no apparent concern.” In this story the woman saw Jesus as the one who was about to be dehumanised in front of the world by the torture of crucifixion and then left to an inhumane disposal, as though his body was no more than meat. The woman treated his body with dignity, but the men showed no such concern.

In many ways, this is a story about looking for the needy under our noses. In our globalised world, where we engage with the poor through a TV set or an Internet connection, its easy to forget the needy on our doorsteps. Us, Generation Xers, are in danger of such ‘global’, issues-based, but impersonal social action. There is definitely a place for it, but let’s not forget the poor on our doorsteps.

It’s also a story about being concerned with more than handouts, but being concerned about valuing people. It is a story about caring for the human. Isn’t this why we are taking action against the dehumanising of people at Guantanamo? Because Jesus taught us to treat people like human beings and with dignity?

I think the Guantanamo event will be great and I’m really looking forward to, but lets use it as an opportunity to think about how we are giving dignity to our partners and our children, our work colleagues and that homeless guy we walk past on the way to work.

(PS. Apologies if this is all really obvious to everyone and also, apologies for getting a bit preachy at the end!)

A Kick in the Testaments

Laughing is pretty hard when you’ve just been kicked in the testaments! – Or after someone put the boot into your prize assets! But, in time, (and it may take a while), you eventually begin to see the funny side! That is exactly what happens in Amazon’s reviews of the Holy Bible – people well and truly put the boot into a Christian’s prize asset, but though there are a few painful moments, in the recognition of a few fair points made, in the end, you’ve got to admit – some of their comments are quite funny. Here are a few of my favourites:

“There aren’t enough good fights”

“Three stars, because the paper was too thin”

“One of the most disjointed novels I’ve read in a long while”

“Almost preachy in tone”

“Who wrote this thing, Michael Moore?”

“Definitely not his best work”

“Obviously the infallbile KJV stands alone as a paragon of exactitude, percisION, undeniability, brevity, bombastictness and hysterectomy.”

“The first half is better. In fact, you can totally disregard the second part entirely. It was an unnecessary addition. The author accomplishes everything needed by the end of the first part.”

“For those of you who don’t know, this is God’s second novel after the Old Testament. It’s a marked improvement, in my opinion. He got rid of a lot of his previous angst and scorn, and has really begun to show some of the maturity present in his later works. He’s become a much more loving and kind God, and, noticeably, he doesn’t throw nearly as many tantrums as he did in the first book.”

“There were too many perspectives and the story didn’t really even have a cohesive plot. This is the most overrated book I’ve read since The Da Vinci Code!”

“’Revelation’ was pretty weird, sort of like watching “Fantasia” while doing mushrooms, only a lot scarier.”

“Some magic was great like the feeding of one hundred from only ten or eleven fish but apart from that nothing special. Read most but not all of it as after Noer, it was kind of boring. That guy lived for years!! Update: Finished. Good ending.”

Saturday, 20 September 2008


Clarion events who run 'the baby show' and 'the caravan show' just bought the DSEi Arms Fair!!!
I didn't know they already do other arms fairs as well.
Special Offer - Buy 2 teething rings and get a free electric cattle prod to torture those who disagree with you politics

Boycott everything they do and email their CEO here (sorry a bit directive i know!)
Oh and sorry for the pic as well. As a Dad I find it hard to describe how sick it makes me feel but it makes the point I think. In fact if I was a hacker then I would hack into the baby show website and poster it everywhere!

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Church is for answers, not questions!

I have a confession to make. Secretly, deep down, in a very dark place, I am a fan of Desperate Housewives!! Now I’m out of the closet, I need to regain some dignity by making a few pious comments on this week’s episode.

Lynette, mother of five, who has survived cancer and a tornado, decides she wants to go to church. She watches her neighbours leave for church on a Sunday morning, and realises that she has a lot to be thankful for, as well as a lot of unanswered questions. So, for the first time in her life she goes to church. Unfortunately, when she gets there, she discovers that church is not a place for asking questions. Watch the clip of her visit to church here.

The punchline comes in the next scene, though, when her church-going friend, Bree, informs Lynette that she should not ask questions in church because, “church isn't a place for questions, it's a place for answers." Church, she explains, is a time to listen and eventually, if you have any questions, they will be answered by listening.

At this point, Schof rang me (much more stimulating than Desperate Housewives, of course), so I have no idea how it ended, but it really struck a chord with me because I’ve been going to church most of my life and for most of that time I’ve been desperate for the church to answer my questions, but it was never interested in them. It never seemed to be a group of people asking and investigating the divine, but a group intent on telling everyone their answers. (Is that too harsh?) I’m not trying to say that there is value in indecision. Constant prevaricating can certainly stop us putting our beliefs into practice. It seems quite reasonable that we land on some convictions that prompt action. But, these convictions are always held to with a light touch, aware that we are dealing with questions of God and life – questions that cannot be empirically tested. Isn’t that what faith is all about. It just seems to me that God, by his very nature is mysterious, beyond us, someone we enquire into, not one we essentially can ever have sewn up.

I’ve always felt a bit like Lynette – like a square peg in a round hole – like I’d completely got the wrong idea about what church was about - asking questions no one wanted broached, let alone answered. In fact, had I declared myself a non-Christian I think people would have given me more time, but a Christian is in. His journey has stopped and he now has the answers, not the questions.

Of course, I realise that it is highly threatening for some people that their faith is being questioned. I realise I’m not as sympathetic about this as maybe I should be – psychologically many do not have confidence (faith?) that their beliefs will still hold together after intense probing. Faith (that conviction about things we cannot be certain about) is replaced by certainty.

Anyway, this isn’t a moan. I am personally reconciled to what church is. This is more of a thanks to all you bloggers out there for providing me a context for the first time in my life where I can ask questions and get things wrong and retract things and no one is defensive that their faith is under threat.

Get Fair

Get Fair

watch out for press tomorrow

Thursday, 4 September 2008

God on Trial

I was away and missed this - anyone see it and fancy doing a review post ?

You can still catch it here (which I will do when i get a spare 90mins!)

Who wants to live forever?

I personally think Freddie was right – who does want to live forever? I mean, it sounds pretty dull to go on and on and on. I’ve always liked that quote, “People dream of immortality who can’t decide what to do on a rainy day”. And all this disembodied stuff doesn’t appeal much either – I love the feel of the sun on my back and other physical pleasures (!!) And, to be honest, perfection is pretty unattractive too. How dull to have some pre-determined, ideal place, where human creativity and ingenuity are no longer required. To be honest, I quite like all the depth of human experience and emotion that comes from our falleness and uncertainty about the future.

But, I can accept it. I mean, it doesn’t appeal much, but I’m willing to allow for the fact that we somehow continue after death. But, what really bothers me, is the fact that it has somehow become the centrepiece of Christianity. We need to ensure (more than anything else) that we go to heaven and get others there too. And this preoccupation with heaven means that social action in the present is only relatively important. I know people say that they can have both – social action and evangelism – but my experience of the church is that one negates the other. With a very utilitarian logic – eternity is just simply longer and so more important.

With this in mind, we’ve been reading 1 John in church over the last few months, and I’m afraid I didn’t fall over with excitement when I read its apparent message: “And this is what he promised us – even eternal life.” (2:25)

…except that something hit me between the eyes as I was reading it that I know is pretty commonplace for many, but had hardly registered in my consciousness before: the Greek word for “eternal” doesn’t mean “eternal” at all. It is the Greek word, “aon”, from which we get the English word ‘eon’. It means age or era. Of course, we can imagine this age going on and on, but to translate it “eternal” is somewhat misleading. It isn’t a promise of continued existence after death, it is a promise of a new kind of life that has started in the present. This is what he has promised us – the life of the eon (the new age of God’s presence in the world). Or, as it is put elsewhere in 1 John, “the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.” (2:8)

So, maybe Freddie was right after all:

Forever is our today
Who waits forever anyway?

Incidentally, it also just so happens that 1 John is not that impressed by the whole disembodied thing either. One of its main objections is against those in the community who valued a disembodied, ‘other-worldly’ Christianity and so believed in a disembodied Jesus and couldn’t accept a sensual, physical one. Maybe, we are more out of step with I John than we think when we reduce the Christian message to a reward in the after life.

Of course, I know its not enough to simply get excited about a re-reading of the Bible, we need to start living the life right now (the embodied, joyful, liberating, holistic life) that God has promised us. There is, after all, nothing to wait for. But, I do also think salvaging the Bible from the hands of those who have made it irrelevant is pretty important too – especially if we care about the Bible and the Christian tradition we find ourselves in.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Goats + Air Crash Investigation + losing our Humanity

I was talking to my jumbo pilot brother in law the other day when he was asked about the recent Madrid plane crash that killed 153 people (mainly families off on hols) last month. His reply really struck me and we had a very brief chat about it. I can't remember the exact words he used but this is a summary of the gist of his unexpected response blurred in with my thoughts-
  • Everybody always wants to know 'what happened' which is also saying 'who is to blame'
  • This is very hard to say and often takes ages to work out and, whilst this is vital to prevent it happening again, its not the most important thing (this was a bit shocking coming from someone who spends his life 30,000ft up in one of these machines)
  • Bry said -What about the people who died, their families and those badly injured and still in hospital - what about the real life human beings caught up in this awful tragic event.
  • With the 24hr media cycle to maintain and the growing 'blame & claim' litigious culture explaining and blaming rob the people in the story of their humanity (as they become statistics and emotive/gore pics/porn?)

Does this explain/blame response, a classic scapegoating response (see other scapegoat labeled post here) help us to keep our own vulnerability, culpability and responsibility at bay. I mean does it help us rationalise it all so we -

  • Are not to disturbed by what could be a very important, humbling and refocusing reminder of our own mortality and relative lack of control of the world around us
  • Don't think for to long on how we might be in any way to blame for this or other 'regretable accidents' (Doesn't our wanton consumerism and the profit motive not drive short turn arounds, long lifetime aircraft, bare as possible bones maintenance etc (add in your own non aviation eg's Exxon Valdez, Bhopal?) Do we not all allow 'the system' to override our better judgement? Do we not all make more or less catastrophic balls ups of stuff on a regular basis? Also, doesn't a fear and blame culture make it harder to get to the truth in an investigation thats trying to make sure things are better next time. Openness and humility lead to learning and growth (repentance?) in processes and people.)
  • Are conveniently unreflective on the suffering and needs of our fellow human beings and doing what we might be able to do for them or others facing similar suffering closer to home
Warning long pondering sentences ahead -
So...I am trying to work out what this says about what God did by being willing to be the scapegoat in Jesus, to be the victim, to be pointed out as the designer of the supposed problem tile on the space shuttle, the bad apple spoiling everything, the thrashed and publicly trashed. To show what... that this scapegoating thing is a massive self preserving diversionary tactic that doesn't work, that we reveal the stuff we should really be ashamed of in the act of scapegoating, that Gods love is bigger than our convenient guilt systems (in fact not just bigger than guilt but bigger than even death in the Resurrection) . That, like Bry says, the bottom line is the dignity, value, comfort and life of real people that matters. That God's love (victim and perpetrator embracing love), rather that the idea of God=Fear and Blame, is the door to learning and growth = repentance and then onwards and outwards to the best chance of dignity, value, comfort and abundant life for all.

Hmm... bit dense and rambly in places but thanks Bry and folks - any thoughts?

Monday, 1 September 2008

Hunks Rule

I was gutted to miss Jon Birch aka ASBO Jesus at Greenbelt and this is a beauty. There seems to be lots of chat on the blogosphere about 'women' / 'complementarianism' (women and men are 'equal' but different and have complementary roles - ie men in charge, women 'help'). I tried so hard then not to sound cynical, did I manage? Don't know what you think but it always seems worth having a bit of a think about something promoted by a group that just so happens to directly benefit from it. Now I know we are entering 'how we read the bible' territory here but hey this stuff either marks out Christianity from 'the world' or makes it sound not a little dark ages. I don't even know how much I want to open this one up. Whatever your reading of it all - blokes feel free to chip in to the authoritative debate, women don't worry your pretty little heads...