interest in religion is dead, right?

19 11 2013

It’s a drum people love to bang, that all wise and civilised folk have ‘moved on’ from childish beliefs in gods of any description (apart from 95% of the world), and that nobody is interested any more. So, I just thought I’d highlight this major TV series that took America by storm and is being shown here in December:

Oh, and this tiny little film featuring an unknown actors called, erm, Russell Crow and Anthony Hopkins:

You see, in the midst of our obsession with personal mini-stories has been the resurgence of the mega-story, what theologians call the meta-narrative. We’ve seen it in the big stories of Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Star Wars, and even the Batman Trilogy and Superman reboots, among others. How did we get here, how did things end up like this, is there redemption, if there is a God then what does he say, and what would he have us do?

We desperately want to to believe there is something greater than us. We know there is more to life than what immediately surrounds us. We are endlessly fascinated by stories, myths and legends that show us something about ourselves. It just so happens some of them are true.  

It seems interest in religion isn’t dead, after all.

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advents’ unexpected journey

2 12 2012
an unexpected journey

an unexpected journey

Advent is the season of unexpected journeys. You can take precautions against such things of course, like not listening to anybody called Gandalph, or having an emergency 50p sewn into your pocket. But epic and unexpected journeys just keep coming. And I don’t just mean hobbits, though they do have a habit of appearing during advent.

At advent we look back to God’s epic and unexpected journey through history, beginning with awkwardly naked people in a fruity garden, and taking in wife-swappers, murderers, inheritance-stealers, foreigners and hairy fox-burners, the rise and fall of kingdoms, the liberation of slaves, epic adventures, tragic failures, Boney M and prophets marrying prostitutes. An unexpected journey indeed.

Like the Jews before us, we look back at what God has done. As they looked back to the Exodus as the marker and definer of their faith, so we take in that story and the story of Jesus’ new exodus. But advent isn’t about looking back for its own sake. We look back to in order to look forward. As God has done things in the past, so God will do new things in the future. And that is the case in the epic over-arching story, and in the individual story, whether person is Elizabeth or Mary or Nora..

a young gandalph

a young gandalph

Nora? I want to tell you about Nora. That’s not her real name though she is real. She is a lady from one of our previous churches. An extremely shy old lady, one of the few times her eyes would light up is when she told the story of coming to faith, during a Billy Graham mission in the 1950’s. This was the marker and definer of her faith. We often encouraged her to ask God to do a new thing in her, but she was happy with the memory she had, not believing God would bother to do a new thing in little her.

One day we (unusually) did a call for people to come forward if they wanted a fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit. I really hoped she would come. She was sat at her usual chair, right at the back. She didn’t come. Until the very end of the queue. I can’t tell you my surprise or joy seeing her shuffle up the aisle with her stick. I prayed for her. She went to sit down. It was only in the next few weeks she told us that she had felt that same feeling in church that day as she had had 50 years ago. God had done a new thing in her. She had a new story to tell. She had a new smile. 

This is the unexpected journey of advent. Re-telling old stories to remember that God will give us a new story. Old ladies making the journey up to the front to be anointed. Or giving birth to John the Baptist.

God is doing a new thing. It’s an unexpected journey. And we go together.





church in the wild

13 06 2012

Human being to the mob
What’s a mob to a king?
What’s a king to a god?
What’s a god to a non-believer?
Who don’t believe in anything?

We make it out alive
All right, all right
No church in the wild

So begins this collaboration between Jay-Z and Kanye West. This song and video, called No Church in the Wild, are a window into youth culture, philosophy and theology. There are name checks for  Pious, Socrates, Plato and Jesus, who said so much and contributed so much to our underlying stories and are the foundations on which our culture have been built… and yet… the song shows the nihilism of those who believe nothing. Nothing.

I live by you, desire
I stand by you, walk through the fire
Your love is my scripture

We formed a new religion
No sins as long as there’s permission’
And deception is the only felony
So never f–k nobody wit’out tellin’ me

The religion is the one where we do what we want; the irony is that in a rebellion against controlling religion that restricts us, it is replaced with a power-play gang culture where the strongest are in charge, the bullies are the decision-makers and the point of life is… is… [insert cliche here: sex, drugs…]

If “there no sin as long as there’s permission”, then there is no inherent value in humanity; we are not simply what we do or who we have sex with, we are not just bodies to have experiences with. We are worth more than that, and our bodies are connected to our souls in a far deeper way than this nihilism allows.

When you watch the video, which you must, you see the realism and the glamorising of riots, of fighting back against… against… authority? the police? But who do they represent? They represent what we as adults have given them. Distrust – even anger – against authority. Rage against the machine. The baby boomers who took the money, invested it all for themselves and when it crashed they kept theirs and left the young to pay the price.


The youth are angry. And they don’t know what to do with it. And that is where the church should be. Because where they are is a wild place. No rules, no backstory, no past or future. There is only now.  Jay-Z and Kanye say there’s no church in the wild? Why would they expect there to be?

Well there is, or there ought to be. So let’s go, church. Let’s be in the wild place. Let’s feel their anger and their hopelessness and let’s give them an alternative to nihilism and rage and nothingness. That alternative might not look like church as we know it, but we are not about church but about Jesus.

Everything looks different in the wild. Even church.

Lyrics taken from http://www.killerhiphop.com/jay-z-kanye-west-no-church-in-the-wild-lyrics-frank-ocean/





hindsight and the deathly hallows

25 03 2012

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. It makes things nobody can foresee seem blindingly obvious. Like watching a repeat of a penalty shoot-out, it’s obvious which way the keeper should dive when you’ve seen the end.

I’ve been trying to get into the minds of Jesus’ disciples as we’ve been reading through the final days, and trying to imagine what they were feeling without the advantage of hindsight. They knew – knew! – the Messiah couldn’t die because God wouldn’t let that happen, and certainly not like a common criminal. So they would have always thought Jesus had a plan, another plan, a better plan. As the hours passed from the final supper to the garden and the arrest and their hopes for this plan b began to fail… what was going through their minds?

And then I was reading a book this afternoon and there was a chapter which brought to mind something of the conversations the disciples would have been having after Jesus resurrection. You know, that really awkward bit after the Mary’s have said they’ve seen Jesus, and then Peter says the same… but they can’t make the pieces fit together. Would you?! I imagine these conversations where they argue – ARGUE!! – using words the NIV certainly wouldn’t translate.

I was reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I know, I’m a few years late in discovering it’s actually a really good story! In chapter 22, entitled The Deathly Hallows, Harry is beginning to piece together the story; he has discovered new information and that enables him to begin reinterpreting what he already knew. Stories from the past, prophecies they never knew existed because you wouldn’t until you have hindsight. 

Like the disciples, poring through the Scriptures (our Old Testament) and seeing references to the details of Jesus’ life that they couldn’t have known before. Being brave enough to think their thoughts out loud, thoughts they knew sounded ridiculous and like they were trying to force Jesus into a story… what if… what if…

What if Jesus is the Messiah, what if when he talked about being raised in 3 days he actually meant it… what it the temple he talked about was his body… what if he has brought the resurrection forward to now… what if he is the one the prophets talked about… what if he is the suffering servant from Isaiah… maybe this is the new covenant from Jeremiah

Thomas, what do you think?

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.Pictures

When Harry began to piece the story together he was met with scepticism, but he had to stick it out. Trust. It seemed unbelievable. When the disciples began to piece the story together they were met with scepticism, but they had to stick it out. Trust. It seems unbelievable. When we begin to piece the story together… it must seem unbelievable.

To me, it does. If it ever isn’t, we’re missing something. But hindsight shows us that Jesus did have a plan, that there is an ending. Sometimes you have to die to get there.

But thankfully it’s Jesus, not a stone, that brings resurrection. Hallowed be your death. And your life. 





a new hope for amateur church

27 01 2012

If you’re a fan of Star Wars, then you’ll love the brand-new crowd-sourced fan film just released online – in normal-speak, that’s where Star Wars nerds made their own versions of scenes in the film, using actors, cardboard cut-outs, puppets and anything else they could find, sent them in to Darth Vader and he cut hundreds of 15 second clips from them to make the whole film. It is random, disjointed, painful to watch but also brilliant, and mesmerising, for perhaps the same reason.

I love the idea of fans – people who love something – being asked to make it themselves. Instead of being passive consumers of the latest Blu-Ray DVD Extended Directors Cut Olympic Edition, you get involved yourself. Yes, of course it won’t match the professionals; it won’t pass for 3-D when it’s made from a cardboard box. But it’s yours!

It reminded me a bit of when we as Christians go to “Big Events” to see professional musicians & talkers at conferences and things like Spring Harvest or New Wine or whatever is your chosen flavour, get all immersed in the wonder of the Hillsong gas-light anthem with 1000 beautiful people on stage smiling about how Jesus made them all shiny and new… and then try and recreate it in our home church with Marjorie and her 83 year old piano. To be honest, it’s a bit,well, crowd-sourced. It’s a fan film. It’s not going to win an award. But it’s real.

We don’t expect it to be brilliant. It isn’t. But that’s the church. You work with what you’ve got. Jesus came and invited us to follow him, to worship him, and he did away with Professional Worshippers who do it for you, like High Priests. So, you’re not meant to get a glossy show, which is why I am suspicious when I do.

Even the C of E, for all our dodgy theology about priesthood, is crowd-sourced. The reason there is no C of E press office is because we are a collection of diocese who agree to work together. There is no-one ‘in charge’, which is why what Rowan says is not the ‘official’ party line. It’s just his.

May we the church forever be crowd-sourced, the best ever fan film, made by people who love Jesus and spend our time worshiping him because we love him. We won’t be shiny and glossy, there’ll definitely be some visible editing cuts, jerky cameras and accidental comedy moments. But you’ll love watching it.

And better, you’ll love being a part of it. 





sacrificing jack

16 09 2011

—caution: plot spoilers!—

He who was immortal became mortal, and it was his mortal blood that was sacrificed for the salvation of the world. Following the offering of blood in sacrificial death, there came resurrection. The man in question… J.. J… Jack. Captain Jack.

the trinity?

So Torchwood ended last night. Epic story telling from Russell T. Davies that we got used to in Doctor Who and that has been sadly lacking in the bite-size adventures of Stephen Moffat’s Doctor. Davies’ Doctor looked outwards with big stories about humanity, salvation and the power of sacrifice; Moffatt’s looks inwards to saving the Doctor and his friends from their Boy’s Own adventures.

Back to Torchwood. Yes, this series was nothing compared to Children of Men; disappointingly Americanised, way too long, too many pointless plot deviations, not enough emotional depth and as Gwen herself said, contained nothing extra-terrestrial. But the last 2 episodes were much better. And the ending at least restored some faith in the Big Story.

Big Story is important. Some call it meta-narrative. Story that helps us find our place, our meaning, that tells us about Big Things. This Torchwood ended as many of Russell T. Davies’ Doctor Who stories ended: stories of personal sacrifice, of salvation, of resurrection. This ending particularly had so many echoes of the sacrificial death of Jesus. In fact, you can’t help but chuckle at Russell T Davies use of religious metaphor as the first words Gwen spoke after Jack’s blood saved the world: “Jesus Christ Almighty”. Then Jesus Jack came back to life. Resurrected.

Then there’s Jack’s words spoken to the most unlikely of characters, Bill Pullman‘s creepy paedophile Oswald Danes. Jack, for all his own moral ambiguity, tells Danes, “you’ve made your life so small.” Maybe in this Big Story, that even tries to find redemption for the paradigm of the most hated figure of our time, there’s an encouragement for us to live bigger lives, looking outside of ourselves and the darkness within  to look outwards and upwards, to the author and perfector of all things. In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life.

What would we sacrifice, and for whom? Because we know real life. That begins before death. A bigger life. That is a real Blessing.





doctor who. protest. forget. abdicate.

12 04 2010

[Warning: Doctor Who plot spoiler from 10/04/10]

which doctor

So the Star Whale takes Starship UK on its own back to lead it from danger. A willing sacrifice made to save the human race (well, the UK) (except Scotland) (no change there) from destruction. The human race does not trust though, does not believe, cannot see a selfless act as just that: a selfless act. It captures the whale, forcing it to power the ship, torturing it in order to force it to do their will.

All the adults know this. They know that they have taken the very last Star Whale, and are torturing it to death, slowly, and feeding it with their own flesh and blood. They know, but they cannot live with it. So they are given a choice. They can protest against the treatment, the murder, the Police-state. But protest leads to their own death. The other option is to forget. Memory is erased, everyone carries on as if everything is normal. Fine.

Protest, or forget.

The Queen gets another option. She also knows. She is the highest authority. She can forget, or abdicate. She forgets, everything carries on. If she abdicates, the Star Whale is freed, the ship loses power, and everyone dies. Everyone. Every 10 years, she chooses to forget.

a different kind of queen

This is of course not real life, but Doctor Who: The Beast Below. There are parallels with the red pill/blue pill in The Matrix. And many parallels with life.

Having recently watched BBC Panorama’s Chocolate: the Bitter Truth, is it about the secret that we know most of our chocolate is produced using child slave labour  but we choose to forget. Because if we remembered, we couldn’t live with it. Children, fed to the monster. Protest? And not eat our favourite chocolate? Fat chance. We choose to forget, every time.

forget

Is it about the fact that our economic system, built on debt and gambling and insatiable greed, is unsustainable, rewarding those at the top of the pile for gambling with someone else‘s money and laying off those at the bottom of the pile at the first sign of trouble. We all know, but we all need it, or we wouldn’t have our mortgages, our credit cards, our overdrafts. Protest, we lose easy credit and our greed is unsatisfied and we have to look inside our own heads and see how unfulfilled we are. Or forget, carry on as before, even after the great crash of 2009.We choose to forget, every time.

Or maybe it is about the one and only of his kind, not a Star Whale but the son of god, who took the world on his back and carried it to safety, but was mistrusted, tortured, and left to die. He who when people looked into his eyes, they could never forget, and ended up protesting too much. We try to forget, every time.

Maybe it is about us, we who know what Jesus has done, but cannot handle it, cannot accept it; who instead of accepting his sacrifice tie him up and want him to do our bidding, to do it our way, with us in charge, not accepting selfless love but making him a slave to our bidding. That, or we forget, we ignore it, we allow our relationship to become a habit to become a religion to become a prison and we ignore the Star Whale that powers the ship that leads us through the asteroid belt and to safety before we even asked it to.

Protest, forget, or abdicate? Abdicate. Hand over the power. Leave the world in the hands of the dying whale, and watch everything die with it. Or maybe, just maybe, you’ll be surprised that once you hand your power to the whale, the whale chooses life. Your life. Our life. My life.

To gain your life you must lose it. To hold power you must be prepared to give it up. Long live the Star Whale.

who's smiling?

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a slumdog sent[i]mentality

1 10 2009

D. It is written.

If you’ve seen Slumdog Millionaire, you will know.

Some things we see or experience or know can connect us with something bigger than ourselves, something awesome and powerful and terrifying and hopeless – true desperation, poverty, horror – and yet something so hopeful the hairs on the back of my neck rise and make me want to shout out loud in a slightly embarrassing way “you see, there is more!!”.

Something, dare I say, spiritual.

it is written

it is written

When I see a film like Slumdog or The Constant Gardener or The Interpreter or many others that deal with the harsh realities of life I find they connect me with my spirituality – as if we can ever be “disconnected” – far more profoundly than a church service or a beautiful mountain scene or those horrendously cheesy posters with a big dog a small cat and a cheerful bible text.

Spirituality can so easily become entwined with sentimentality that it becomes nothing more than something about positive feelings. About me, my life, my well-being. In popular speak it refers to that un-identifiable something or other, usually accompanied by a “warm feeling”. A spiritual experience usually means a personal, inward looking one.

The moment...

The moment...

But that is not a spirituality that sits well with Jesus. Sentimentality like that is too easy, too shallow; it cannot engage with true pain, with poverty, with torture, with utter hopelessness and desperation, with mediocrity or the plain dull; it cannot engage with the cross, the resurrection, with Jesus as Lord. It fears and resists being linked with a god who self-empties, who gives of himself and does not clutch his divinity or majesty but instead is willingly sent to be and to know and to love and to be loved by his human creations.

It is, of course, a start. We must feel and we must express sentiment. But that is not where it ends. There is a greater, deeper, more profound and beautiful and challenging and uncomfortable aspect to us that if we remain disconnected from it, we cannot be fully who we are created to be.

We are called not to have a sentimentality, but to have a sent mentality. It does not have “i” in the middle. So we must see films like Slumdog, or find some way to engage with real pain – which is far more than knowing it exists and feeling sorry for it – because it is to the middle of that pain that our spirituality is sent. To be part of the hope, the change, the light. That is the hope. Always the hope.

Our spirituality therefore must be robust. If it is weak it cannot stand among the slumdogs or the millionaires. And it must be centred on Jesus, not on the “I” of me. If it centres on me, then it has nothing to offer or give except me, and no-one to be sent except me, and that is not enough because only Jesus is. True spirituality must be about being sent to the mess, not sentimental about it.









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