15 06 2013

I firmly believe that one of the things that can hold us – the church – back from reaching our potential is a lack of honesty about how we feel about God. There is such a subtle and unspoken pressure to be alright with God, to be positive about God. And if we don’t feel like that, for fear of looking like we’ve got it wrong, we keep quiet.

Which is why the following conversation started by a new Christian friend on Facebook can teach us something so important.:

facebook psalm

Why do I think this can teach us something? Because it’s so biblical. Biblical?! Yes, you know those awkward bits of the Psalms about killing enemies because they are evil, about dashing the heads of babies on rocks, about devouring enemies with dogs? This is that. This is brazen honesty before God, it’s taking the belly rage and whipping God with it. This is what we want to happen, in the moment, when we are angry.

What I am not saying is that the sentiment is right. And I don’t believe the David and the other biblical ragers did either. We can’t use it to justify doing bad stuff. But what is right is the honesty, something we shy away from in church so much. Which is weird, when the Bible is stacked full of people kicking the verbal hoojimey’s out of God and his failure to act, his failure to rescue, about how the evil prosper and the good die young; and about how he forgives our enemies, looks graciously upon those we hate, and shows mercy to those who plainly don’t deserve it.

There are people I know who are raging against God not healing them from terminal illness, from grief, from depression, from mental health problems, from addictions, from abuse. We must allow people to rage. IT’S BIBLICAL! What we don’t do is stay there, live there, become twisted and bitter and gnarled. It is our responsibility as church to be honest with each other, and then afterwards to help each other through it, to then have sensible discussions about grace and love and forgiveness and patience and justice and mercy.

And regarding the above conversation? There’s no simple answers, because we each have to find our own way to see God’s grace at work. In our society it’s ok to just be angry and vengeful; when we discover God’s grace we discover we can’t do that anymore. We can be horrified, disgusted, deeply moved and angry; but we can’t stay there.

Sometimes even that can make us angry. Grace is scandalously unjust. 

an irresponsible chuckle

14 06 2013

When I first saw this at the back of our church, I simply made me chuckle. How can Bible reading notes be used irresponsibly, I thought?! I had visions of using them to prop up one table leg in cafes to make them wonky, or making ‘flob bombs’ to throw at teachers (do they still do that?), or crumbled up and mixed with water and cut into discs and flattened to make comedy communion wafers out of daily bread. Ha ha.  I think I thought that one through too much. 


Then my mind was drawn to 2 millennia of church history. And a frivolous chuckle suddenly became a serious thought. Maybe we should attach this warning to actual Bibles, considering how it has been and still is used irresponsibly. The word of God is free, but is not without cost; and claiming to understand it wields great power. As the oft-quoted prophet Uncle Ben (not the rice one) said, with great power comes great responsibility.

It is our responsibility to read the Bible, and to try to understand it, but to do so responsibly, looking not just through our own cultural eyes and for verses to back up our opinions. At home group when there was a question I didn’t know the answer to, and I went and got a book with Tom Wright in, someone said this is the problem – you start with a Bible, and end up with commentaries and concordances and it all gets more confusing. Yes, but would we expect to responsibly understand any other translated 1st century document without help?

So, although this started with an irresponsible chuckle, it doesn’t end there. Whoever wrote it has a point.

But I’m still wondering what was written first underneath the tippex… 

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*

herding cats

10 02 2011

my hero

From Jack Bauer to Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa to Batman, art and real life show us that flawed heroes are the best heroes. A flawless hero is too distant, too unreal; if we get a sniff of a flawless hero we send the paps round to expose them, whether it’s their affairs, temper tantrums, cellulite or simply mixed motives we love to bring them down. To our level? Or lower?

It’s probably because we know they can’t be real. Because we know ourselves. We may do heroic things, maybe every day – feeding the children, surviving the marriage, managing a smile, or rescuing kittens from burning buildings – but we know our heroic nature battles with our rubbish nature and usually comes out second best. So we need our heroes to be like us. And it is encouraging to know they are.

Maybe it’s just an anti-authority post-modern thing. But if so, the ancient scribblers who wrote down the early Bible stories were pretty post-modern. I’ve been reading Genesis and have reached the part where the grand stories and descriptive narratives of creation and garden and flood and the growth of nations and the beginning of humanity and human nature make way for the particular and specific as we meet a particular man called Abraham. And his temperamental and dysfunctional family.

He is a Biblical hero. One of the fathers of our faith, a patriarch, and rightly so; on a good day he was loyal, faithful, fearless and bold, striking out for this new and barely understood God through thick and thin. And so, a hero. But on a bad day… we don’t have to do much (any) digging to find the flaws. He lied, he was unfaithful to his wife and his God, he was hot-headed and arrogant and made a lot of money on the way. And his children… EastEnders would be proud to have such a family in Walford.

Follow me! Erm, hello?

This new family that Yahweh were certainly not chosen for their respectability, their compliance, their ability to wear hats or fit into Victorian family ideals. In fact I get the feeling that leading this family was a bit like herding cats. No sooner have you got them going one way than they have wandered off.

So why do it? The way some people understand God, he wouldn’t have the patience to herd cats, or even to heroically rescue them from burning buildings. The Old Testament God would just shoot them for going the wrong way, wouldn’t he? Didn’t he love a good smiting,what ever that is?  No. I think a proper reading of Genesis shows us that time and again God looks for excuses to bless, excuses to show grace; time and again instead of choosing compliant robots or even loyal and simple dogs he chooses cats, cats who don’t like to be managed, led or controlled, let alone herded. But he patiently waits, patiently nudges the family back on track when they’ve wandered off.

Hopefully that can be an encouragement to us who, like cats, get bored, wander off and would rather have a snooze. God’s endless patience with Abraham and his family, through Isaac and Jacob and Joseph and Moses and David and all the way through Jesus’ disciples and down to us is still… endless. No matter how much leading us is like herding cats.


bible bashing

11 01 2011

It’s one of the age-old conundrums of our faith. How do you explain that a book written yonks ago by (allegedly) crusty bearded blokes still speaks to us today? And when we say it speaks, we don’t mean it literally ‘speaks’ out loud; and we don’t mean ‘it’ actually speaks, because there is no life-force or entity that could speak. It is a book, or rather a collection of writings and poetry and story and history, prophecy and metaphors and doodles and epic canvasses. The ‘it’ that speaks is actually God, who speaks through the Bible by his Holy Spirit. Though we call the Bible the Word of God, actually Jesus is the Word of God, revealed through the Bible. Which might seem like a pedantic distinction, but I think an important one. And he doesn’t speak just once – he spoke when he inspired the original writings, and he speaks as we read it afresh.

[That is a complicated opening paragraph. Must shorten it. -Ed]

When some people speak of the Bible, they speak as if God dictated it, as if it is the Bible we worship, that cannot be questioned, wrestled with or challenged; they use hard, command-type words like infallible or inerrant. I can understand this, though I don’t agree. I think it comes down to how hard it is to describe our relationship with this complex collection of revelation (I wrote a bit about this here). Call it a library of community history and that seems a bit weak and we could be accused of being  a bit dodgy and not taking the Bible seriously; call it the Infallible Word of God and we are in danger of Bibliolatry, where the Bible becomes more important than Jesus whom it reveals and lots of Capital Letters appear everywhere, Scaring Everyone into Submission. Which sounds a lot like Islam.

[This paragraph seems a bit wordy. Again. Were you listening? -Ed]

I think the Bible is a fascinating account of the turbulent relationship that God has had with his people; it shows the wrestles and the struggles, as people want him to be their mighty king and deliverer and he wants to be their shepherd; they want him to destroy their enemies, and he wants them to love them; then they want to blend in with other nations, and he calls them to be distinct. They want their freedom, and at the same time his protection; they want free will, and at the same time to be clearly led. They want to worship God but also to know how to live with the myriads of daily issues that come with husbands or wives or children or work or sex or love or money or other people’s gods. They want to know what he says about things, when quite often he says nothing, but asks them a question.

We want a Hayne’s Manual, and he gives us a cuddle; we want a text-book, he buys us an ice-cream; we want a quick fix, he invites us to love people who murder our families.

When being translated in 2000 years time this will make no sense. Must be less oblique and briefer. Is Ezekiel your role-model? -Ed

I am making an effort to read the Bible a bit more this year. I am joining in with the Essential 100 initiative (part of Biblefresh) to help me with it. The kick up the proverbial backside (Proverbs 7.1) is the 400th anniversary of the Authorised (King James) Version of the Bible, which is not a translation I have ever particularly enjoyed reading because I do not live in 1611 but 2011, but at least it is a chance to remember to read the Bible! In our church we feel particularly connected to this anniversary because we are named after Bishop Lancelot Andrewes, one of King James’ translators.  And we are trying to read it together, because the Bible was never meant to be read alone, but to be read together in community, where we can talk about it and discuss and say we don’t understand and then wait for God to speak through it.

As Brian McLaren says we don’t want to be under the text like conservatives tend to be, or over it like liberals often are, but in the text…

“…in the conversation, in the story, in the current and the flow, in the predicament, in the Spirit, in the community of people who keep bumping into the living God… loving God, betraying God, losing God and being found again by God.” (A New Kind of Christianity, p125)

Maybe you’d like to do the same.  Let’s not get hung up on what the Bible is or isn’t, but let’s read it, and allow God to speak. Again.

prooftext postcodes

8 09 2010

Like many over the summer I found myself driving in unfamiliar places. Like many I didn’t research my route in detail beforehand. Like many I turned on the SatNav and followed the blue line. Like many I ended up sinking in a lake. Ok, I didn’t. But I did a few dodgy routes and wrong turns and wished afterwards that I had an actual, old-fashioned map that showed all the roads, not just the one I’m on.

in sweden, all signs are this funny

The problem with satnavigation is not usually the accuracy – it does normally work in the end – but the context. Simply following the blue line to my friends in St Helen’s was fine, except that I realised when I got there that I had no idea whereabouts in St Helen’s they lived. I couldn’t name their road, because all I used was a postcode. I was in their house, but didn’t know if it was north or south of the town, surrounded by woodland or a dense urban sprawl; when they spoke of the East Lancs road that cuts through their neighbourhood I realised I didn’t know what it was, even though I had driven on it.

I think this is something like how many of us read the Bible. We zoom in to the text like it is a postcode on a SatNav. I would like to go to… women in leadership please, or homosexuality, or creation, or tax avoidance. Our super-speedy internet sites like Bible Gateway help us out – there’s your key word, there’s your proof text. Blindly we follow the blue dot to our destination. So when someone says, how did you get that meaning from that passage, we say isn‘t it obvious? When they say no, not really if you look at the context, we say but it must be true it says it on the screen. It’s a bit like typing High Street into your SatNav and following it to the first one it finds. They are all the same in name, but entirely different in context.

told you

We need to take the time to get the map out. The map that shows us the big picture, the entire road network, the shows us where we are and where we are going, the map that gives us the information to decide on the quickest route or the most interesting route or the one that avoids the High Street.

We need to read more of the Bible, not just the proof-texts; we need the big picture, we need to understand why things are said and where they are said and sometimes more importantly what is not said. We need to interpret the Bible as an inspired work of art, an anthology of poetry and prose and thoughts and prayers and longings and desires and we need to notice all these things as we pass through them to our final destination. And sometimes stop and get out and look and have a coffee. Enjoy the journey. See the trees. Catch the view.

Otherwise we are in danger of ending up in the wrong place, with no idea of where we are or how we got there. And then it gets cloudy, the satellites give up, the batteries die and we wish we’d brought the map after all. Except it’s at home. And we don’t know how to use it.

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