lampposts and landrovers

4 03 2012

I was out with my running club the other night. It’s something I do from time to time to confirm the stereotype that skinny people are good at long-distance running. Anyway, we were doing this horrible training run where you run hard up a steep hill, then turn round and jog back slowly to a fixed point. And repeat it as many times as you can in 30 minutes.

I say fixed point. You see, often with these runs we use lampposts as markers but the pavement was being dug up so we used a parked car as a landmark. A Land Rover. Which was fine. And very appropriate.

Trouble is, on the 2nd repetition the Land Rover (predictably) disappeared. It threw me momentarily. It reminded me of the time I was walking over Kinder Scout in the Peak District, lost my way and took a compass bearing on the only fixed point I could see. A cloud. I know, not good. But we survived. 

Following fixed points when following Jesus sometimes feels like he has got in the landmark and driven it away. Jesus refuses to be pigeon-holed or boxed. Which we deny, time and time again by making him into fixed point. Turning a parked car into a lamppost is fine if you want to light up a tiny area but not go anywhere.  

I mean, there are fixed points. I’m not saying there aren’t. But the Word of God is person not a book; a personality and not a sentence. Being dogmatic about Jesus is like catching a cloud in a jar to ensure your compass reading is accurate. We don’t really know where Jesus really stands on contemporary conundrums from banking to sex to fig trees to being gay. Ok, we know about fig trees.

We think we know; we make leaps from principles to practice which we may well absolutely believe are true to Jesus. And they may well be. But… Sometimes he drives the landmark away. 

So when we obsess over fixed points, be they about homosexuality and marriage or about anger or adultery or fig trees (and other gardening issues) let’s try and remember that Jesus always – always – saw the person, and the bigger picture; always put loving people first. 

He operated on fixed points. Of course he did, he was a devout Jew. But he also moved them. Redefined them. And to steal from Rob Bell, Jesus didn’t say get out of the box. Because there is no box. This doesn’t get us off the hook when it comes to living well. It doesn’t mean we don’t aim for holiness.

But it does mean we don’t just stand still and admire the small pool of light the lamppost makes around us. Because Jesus has just driven away.  


bin laden with questions

12 05 2011

The world we live in is flat, was created in 7 days and morality is as black & white as a zebra. There are no further questions.

The thing is, the world appears to be a sphere. Genesis appears not to be attempting to be a construction manual. And the closer you look at a zebra, the more the black and the white hairs seem to be a mixed-up and blended in.

It is important to me that our faith in the resurrected Christ impacts on all areas of our life. And those lives are all mixed up. Which is why sometimes I write about my own faith journey, sometimes about politics, sometimes about music. Because there is no place in which Jesus is not. As Rob Bell said, everything is spiritual. There is no sacred/secular divide. 

Which brings us to the death of Osama bin Laden. Immediately I heard the news, I was concerned about the language that was used. ‘Taken out’, ‘eliminated’, and all kinds of other euphemisms. I was concerned about the celebrations that were taking place in America, though thankfully it would seem only in America. People from Pakistan were killed on 9/11 too, though that is easily forgotten. 

But what difference does me being concerned make? Am I just being pious, do I live in a cloud-cuckoo-land where a fair and just trial for bin Laden would cause more problems than there already were? Maybe. But I think we are right to think about these things. We are right to ask difficult questions to those who act on our behalf. There may well be good answers. But we must ask the questions. Because the Jesus I know was not afraid to ask them. The Jesus I know sought justice for the oppressed and he also sought integrity from the powerful.

Richard Littledale notes how mixed-up those things are in posting this picture:


Many have commented on bin Laden’s death so I won’t repeat what has been said, but provide some links to those discussions. 

Tom Wright caused a bit of a storm by comparing the execution to America’s obsession with ‘exceptionalism’, based on the Wild West model of being beyond the law, writing in the Guardian and quoted by Ian Paul; Will Cookson has offered a response to that and to the question of whether Bishops have anything to say on global political issues. Journalists often criticize them for speaking out,  whilst at the same time reporting what they say. 

Nick Baines responds to the accusations of Bishop’s ‘hand-wringing’ with this example:

For example, my own involvement in Zimbabwe led me to believe that unless and until the rule of law is established there, little else can happen to sort the place out. What should Robert Mugabe learn from the killing of Bin Laden? Either the rule of law is fundamental or it isn’t.

These questions are important. We must be uncomfortable, even if we decide that the situation could be no other way. The moment we stop being uncomfortable, the moment we don’t allow ourselves to be deeply concerned, is the moment we are no longer being ambassadors of the radical, life-changing, transformative and very very resurrected Jesus. Because life is not simple. And Jesus is not on our side.

controlled by cookies

12 04 2011

They know. They are clever. And they never forget.
They remind you. They prompt you. They stalk you.

Do you fear them?

Or do we embrace them?

After all, there is nothing to fear. All they are doing is saying if you liked that, you may also like this. You bought this album, you may like this one. How very lovely, we think, I’ll give it a go. Have a cookie. Thanks for the thought.

boxed in

My recommendations from Amazon are sometimes very useful, sometimes way off the mark (80’s rom coms are not really my scene, it was Fran’s birthday…) (honest). But they are always based on my previous purchases, or things I have shown an interest in. Do they show me anything new? Or do they simply affirm my tastes and keep me in the same box? Does the shuffle on iTunes play things I have played more recently based on what I have played recently, so that gradually the net shrinks and it shuffles the same songs?

I was imagining a Bible app that would do the same. Maybe there is one. You know, one that says

  • ‘as you like *Isaiah 61*, you may also like *Luke 4*’,
  • ‘as you like *Acts 2* you may also like *Joel 2*’ or my favourite,
  • ‘as you like to *misinterpret metaphor in Genesis* you may also like to *misinterpret metaphor in Revelation*’.

Then I thought, don’t we already do that. Don’t we already self-select the books we read, the Bible passages we read, the podcasts we download. Don’t we already take recommendations from our friends who we agree with, and in so doing affirm our own rightness by listening/reading/watching stuff we know we will agree with? I was struck by Nick Baines (not literally) a few weeks ago when he said that he doesn’t read books by people he knows he will agree with, because what’s the point? I guess that’s great for an avid quick reading academic like him, but is it realistic for the rest of us? I am about to start a Tom Wright I bought in 2008. That’s how behind I am with my book pile, and that’s mostly books I know I will like. Though it does include a John MacArthur (I was lent that one).

Given the choice, I will read Rob Bell not John Piper. Given the choice and limited time I am unlikely to critically engage in a meaningful sense with someone I am likely to disagree with. Which is exactly what I criticized people for doing with Rob Bell’s new book, people who slandered it before it was even published.

A challenge for me as part of the affirmation generation, who buy/listen/read things based on computer-generated consumption assumptions and tweets from our global ministry heroes is to break out and break free from being controlled by cookies. To try something new. To read someone I don’t agree with and find something good in it.

As Spring Harvest looms, I’m sure there’ll be plenty of opportunity…!

Meanwhile here are a few more ideas for my ‘affirming your own beliefs’ Bible app. Do add your own..!

  • as you like *sporadically applying Levitical laws when they suit you*, you may also like *The Pharisees*
  • as you like *Luke 10*, you may also like *Deuteronomy 6*
  • as you like *denying bodily resurrection and the new creation*, you may also like *The Sadducees*
  • as you like *sending non-believers to eternal physical torment in hell*, you may also like *Matthew 25.31-46*
  • as you like *to write long letters to church leaders* you may also like *Paul*

the provocative resurrection

17 03 2011

Our faith is not a philosophy or a set of ideas, it is not a path of spirituality or a rule of life. It is not something thought up by someone on a rainy Tuesday. It is based on a historical event, something called the ‘scandal of particularity’; at a particular time and place something happened that defines everything. That something is resurrection.

We don’t say Christ has died, Christ was buried, Christ has since disappeared. We don’t say Christ has died, Christ metaphorically rose and Christ occasionally appears in our imaginations. No, we say Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. Is, is IS! Christ rose and is still risen, resurrected with a capital R.

So what does that mean? 

Jesus was provocative in his life, and provocative in his death. A good Jewish leader with claims to be the Messiah does not overturn tables and drive out sacrificial animals from the Temple. In our Lent Course I overturned some chairs as an example, even in front of a Church Warden. That is the point – he did it in front of people who would care.

A good Jewish leader with claims to be the Messiah does not talk of the destruction of the Temple, not least followed by a claim to rebuild it in 3 days. The churchwardens, treasurers and pastors all respond with incredulity – it has taken us 46 years to build this!! Do you know how many jumble sales, barn dances and sponsored organ sacrifices we have had to raise this money?! The Temple is where God dwells, and Jesus speaks of its destruction… and its being raised.

No-one understood.

John 2.22 has this wonderful line in which we are told the disciples understood what Jesus meant only after he was raised from the dead. When he is more explicit in Mark 9.32 about being killed and being raised after 3 days, the disciples still do not understand. And are afraid to ask. And when he is raised, Luke tells us that the women ran from the tomb to tell the disciples, who didn’t believe them because their words seemed like nonsense, an idle tale, made-up wish-fulfilment.

We do not believe Jesus is and was and will be the only one to experience resurrection. Every funeral I pray about our ‘sure and certain hope of resurrection to eternal life’; not our sure and certain hope of drifting vaguely on a cloud somewhere having tea with our granny.

Jesus was provocative. His life was provocative, and his death was provocative. But it does not end there. His resurrection was provocative, daring death and all the powers of darkness to have a go and declaring the gates of hell will not prevail against… us. Which doesn’t mean they bang on our gates; it means we bang on theirs.

Let’s go provoke.

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