Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Archdruid Report

This is for those of you who aren't that into Peak Oil, so won't have come across him yet - but John Michael Greer, an Archdruid, has a really interesting perspective on the crisis we're journeying into - some elements strongly in parallel with me, some quite distinctly different. He's just started up a five-part story on his blog here but if you're not familiar with it, it's worth rummaging around in his blog. Lots of good stuff.

Are friends electric?

Great optimistic Oil Drum story here. As I've said before, the future is wired.


Hmm. I thought Admiral Kane was another Cylon.
(And if you know otherwise, please don't say so in the comments!)

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Bernard SSF, 1928 - 2007

Bernard was born in Birmingham in 1928 into the Apps family and was christened Michael John. His father was a family business man, with civic pride and a commitment to community which showed most fully when he was Lord Mayor. Bernard attributed to his father his own pragmatic, single-minded vigour (which some found less than easy to live with!) and to his remarkable, lively mother (who, alas, became totally immobile with arthritis for over 50 years) such courage, humour and ability to listen as he possessed. To his evangelical conversion at 14 he attributed his life-long affective spirituality and christian discipleship. After various schools (it was wartime) he finished his last term in 1947 as school-captain at King Edward's and went ont to military service, especially enjoying his subaltern year in Germany. At 21 he began 4 years (2 history, 2 theology) at Pembroke College, Cambridge, thoroughly enjoying the life and gaining much from his friends and the distinguished ones of that era (some of whom tutored and lectured him) but usually disappointing them in his exam results. He gained two oars (though not in the highest level boats), was president of the Student Christian Movement, met Br Michael, Fr Algy and the Franciscans and plighted his troth to them in 1953. Two years at Cuddesdon and three in Spalding parish (beloved by him always), a train journey to Dorset (weeping behind the Times) and soon he was a novice SSF at Glasshampton. He emerged in the summer of 1959 winnowed and thinner. He said that he may well have left SSF then, but decided to give it 'one more go' at the house in Plaistow, East London, where over the next ten years he was, variously, youth leader, parish priest, head of the house, operative in a pickle factory ('the world was setting the agenda' in the 60's), part-time community psychiatric social worker, confessor and spiritual guide, missiom preacher, SSF visitor to Oxford each term and Assistant Provincial Minister SSF. He moved on in 1969 to fill a gap in Brisbane Australia, where he loved the people, the surf and the sun (though in moderation), the work in the dioceses and around Australia and in Brookfield Friary which he left free of debt and with an impressively simply chapel. Six months sabbatical/hermit/wilderness period in Hong Kong's New Territories (with Zen Buddhism, Mao's China and 'the darker side of capitalism') brought him back to England and soon to Canterbury; then to 13 years in Dorset as Guardian of Hillfield Friary. He determined to maintain the basic tradition there, but was happy with most of the innovations. He especially loved the one-to-one work and the chapel life (someone said that it was with characteristic gusto that he 'hurtled himself into contemplative prayer'!), he was away on parish missions, retreat, General Synod work (especially on mission issues) and he enjoyed writing in 1986 a small Fount-Collins book 'Open to God' in which he acknowledged what Francis, the Franciscan movement and SSF meant to him. He believed it was the way through which the redeeming God worked with his (ENTJ/Enneagram 8) personality. He returned to East London (Stepney) in 1989 and continued much the same mix of activity, gradually concentrating more on the one-to-one. Two more years at Canterbury followed before he returned to Hillfield in 2005.

Reflecting on all this, Bernard has three comments: 'Deo Gratias' for all God's bounties and the many people who helped him grow; 'kyrie eleison' - begging pardon of God and from all whom he has wronged or misled; and 'Deus meus et omnia' as his deepest aspiration. He hopes to continue praying for those he has met in his life.

(Bernard's autobiographical obituary)

The funeral service was marvellous; full Anglo-Catholic bells and smells, but intimately so (and although I loved it there was a distinct sense of 'this isn't quite where I am now'); an excellent address from Br Sam (very distinct from Rev Sam!) which was honest and loving; a good time to catch up with people I hadn't seen for a long time. I never knew he drank whisky (in moderation)!

Lots of feelings and reflections stirred up. Bernard was the man who put me back together after the episode described (hinted at!!) here, and I am undoubtedly a very different man for having known him. I last saw him about 18 months ago, in London, when I shared with him those lines from a Leonard Cohen song: "And even though it all went wrong I'll stand before the Lord of song with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah." He liked them so much he jotted them down.


I think one of the reasons why he helped me so much is that I too am an 8 on the Enneagram (and virtually the same in Myers-Briggs terms) - and he could see that I was struggling with many of the same things that he had struggled with. There were various remarks about Bernard's 'controlling' side(!) and I too need to keep that side in check, or else succumb to the unhealthy side of power.

Bernard was certainly one of God's wounded healers; that's something I too aspire to be.


Bernard, our companion in faith and brother in Christ, we entrust you to God who created you.
May you return to the Most High who formed you from the dust of the earth.
May the angels and the saints come to meet you as you go forth from this life.
May Christ who was crucified for you, take you into his kingdom.
May Christ the Good Shepherd give you a place within his flock.
May Christ forgive you your sins and keep you among his people.
May you see your Redeemer face to face and delight in the vision of God for ever.



Monday, May 28, 2007


I used to live on one of these.

You can be right standing in the wrong place
You can be wrong footed in the rat race
You can be tight - drink until your head's clear
Here's another list of things I learnt this year...

Saturday, May 26, 2007


There can only be one top priority for all Christians. And it is communion. Any other service must fall into the category of helpful but not mandatory.

Friday, May 25, 2007


When Pa...
When Pa...
When Pa was a little boy like me he used to go in swimming
in swimming

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Prayer, friendship and Christian Unity

Reading this post at one of my favourite blogsites reminds me of the sermon I preached last Sunday. I've gone off posting sermons on the blog - it's a bit like drinking left-over beer the morning after - and these days my sermons tend just to be a list of bullet points anyhow - but writing this one up into something coherent might have some merit (and I can make some things even clearer in the rendition). Click full post for text.

In our gospel reading this morning we have the climax of Jesus' teaching at the Last Supper (John 17.20-end) and it takes the form of a prayer. I'd like to begin my remarks this morning by repeating some general points about prayer, because it is something that I get asked about a lot.

The first point to make about prayer is that it is about a relationship, the relationship that you have between you and God. As with any relationship it requires time if it isn't to wither, and the more time that you give to it, the deeper the relationship will become. What keeps the relationship going is communication, and communication needs to be a two way thing. If you had a relationship with someone who spent all their time talking and never listening to a word you said then that relationship would need some fairly fundamental repair work if it was going to have a future. The same thing applies to your relationship with God - you need to spend at least half the time listening, even more than 50% if you think that what God has to say is more important than what you have to say.

The second thing that I would emphasise is honesty. There is absolutely no point in offering up a piety which isn't rooted in your own heart. If what you really desire is a bright red Ferrari, or to win the lottery, it is absolutely pointless to spend your prayer time asking for world peace or an end to hunger. God isn't deceived by this - the only person being deceived is yourself. So if you want a red Ferrari - pray for a red Ferrari! The whole point about prayer is that it is a process of learning to be honest with ourselves - and therefore to become more intimately acquainted with our deepest desires. For as Augustine put it, our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God - and nothing else will satisfy us. Prayer is the way in which we learn this truth about ourselves, as we journey inwards and find God within.

A further aspect about prayer - about listening to God - is bound up with the notion of obedience and submission. Now this is difficult. It isn't something to be attempted half-heartedly, for it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. It is terribly difficult to follow God's will - much easier to follow our own - and we know this because even Jesus found it hard. Think of Gethsemane, when Jesus was sweating blood because it was so difficult. Yet it is very much the point of prayer - of conforming our will to God's will.

And when we can do this - on those occasions that we do manage to do this - then our prayers are rewarded and we develop a fundamental trust in God and his purposes for us and for the world. The thing is, God is in charge and his purposes will be accomplished. When we spend time in prayer; when we nurture our relationship with Him and listen to His will for us; when we finally start to see that God is God - then we receive a gift, the peace which this world cannot give. We don't have to take all the burdens of the world upon our shoulders; we can simply get on with being obedient, and leaving the big questions to Him.

My heart is not proud, O LORD, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.
But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, put your hope in the LORD both now and forevermore.

So why am I talking about prayer today? Well, my fundamental point will become clear in a moment, but surely if ever someone's prayer is going to be answered, surely Jesus' prayer will be? And what is Jesus praying for?

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.

Jesus is praying that all who believe in him might be one, that there might be Christian unity, and that this unity is not simply the witness to the glory of Christian truth, but that this unity is how Christ is within us - that it is how we share in the life of the Trinity.

Surely some mistake? How can Jesus' prayer have been answered, when we just look around us at the ways that Christians accuse each other and break with each other?

Let's return to what prayer is about. It is about developing a relationship, and it is about submitting our will to God's will. That is, it is not about our feelings but about aligning our desires and choices with God's desires and choices. For God's will shall be accomplished, and we either fall in with that or we resist it.

And do we believe that Jesus' will was aligned with that of the Father? And if so, is Jesus' prayer answered or not?

It seems to me that it is answered; put differently, it means that Christian Unity - when we are all one and the glory of the gospel is manifested to the world - is not something that we have to achieve or accomplish, it is something that we have to discover. It already exists. It is simply that the desires of our sinful and fallen world do a very good job of obscuring that reality from our vision.

The truth is that our salvation, our unity, this is not an individualistic thing. It is not a case of all signing up to the same doctrinal basis of faith, or all agreeing on the same form of words. That is the unity of a Nuremberg rally; it is not the unity of the Trinity. We are made in the image of God - and that image is fundamentally personal and relational - in other words our identity as human beings is found first and foremost through our relationships with one another.

So how then are we to discover this Christian Unity which is Christ's bequest to us? I think there is a simple word which sums it up: friendship. No longer do I call you servants but I call you friends, for I have made everything known to you. It is through the pursuit of friendship that we discover our unity as Christians - a unity which is embedded much more deeply within us than our own self-image, for it is an essential aspect of being made in the image of God. Friendship with other Christians is, then, our duty and our joy.

Of course, another way of describing a friend is companion - the one with whom we break bread. I am sympathetic to the idea that sharing communion is not the final sign of the achievement of unity, but the principal way in which that unity is revealed. Yet that is a discussion all of its own.

I believe that friendship is the fundamental theological category - and imperative! - needed for exploring Christian unity. That is, it is precisely through forming friendships with others, not friendships with a hidden agenda, seeking to convert or dominate, but a friendship modelled on the pattern of Christ himself - without judgement, without condemnation, with love, with acceptance - it is this friendship, the gradual deepening awareness one with another, it is this which allows us to discover our unity, and which allows us to participate in the difference and unity of the Trinity.

I believe that friendship stands to Christian unity in the way that prayer stands to our relationship with God, and that they are the virtues which correspond to our keeping the two great commandments. Prayer is how we love God; friendship is how we love our neighbour; and it is through the pursuit of these two things that Christ's image is revealed in us. So let us commit ourselves anew to prayer, to friendship, and to the breaking of bread. Amen.


So, Freddy Shepherd. Here comes a man who can finance some explosive growth for the Geordie nation's favourite barcode army - and who won't do it unless you sell him your shares - and you say 'get lost!' Hmmm. I know you don't care about popularity but you are supposed to have NUFC's interests at heart...

I have to say, I think this is all very healthy for the long term health of the Premiership (ignoring Peak Oil led depressions, of course). Many more clubs shaping up to be serious contenders - the league as a whole will get much stronger and attract the best world wide talent - obviously room for lots of positive feedback.

As I've said elsewhere, if I were Arsenal I'd be a bit worried.


I wish I could be like a bird in the sky
How sweet it would be if I found I could fly
Well I'd soar to the sun and look down at the sea
And I'd sing cos I know how it feels to be free

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

United 93

Very good indeed. Made me think about the Old Testament Heart a lot. And the conspiracy-minded part of my brain didn't see anything to object to; it all seemed very plausible.


Some people seek hard work.
Some people achieve hard work.
Some people have hard work thrust upon them.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Is Christ Divided? session 6

And now I have surpassed myself - this is _next_week's_sheet!!

BTW, this is picking up themes from a thread on the blog last September, see here for a relevant sermon, and then a sequence of posts, here , here and here.

My thinking has continued to develop, and these notes contain my most up-to-date thoughts on the question of church discipline. Hit 'full post' for the text.

Notes for the house groups on 1 Corinthians.

Week six, beginning Sunday 27 May: 1 Corinthians 5

Main theme: the nature of church discipline

The ONE question for discussion!!

1.What are the grounds for excommunicating a member of the church?

Supplementary thoughts:
Paul is clear that the 'immoral brother' should be cast out, 'put out of your fellowship', handed over to Satan, not even to eat with, expelled. How does this reconcile with Jesus' life and ministry, where he was condemned by the Pharisees for table fellowship with sinners? Is it to do with the nature of the offence committed? How does this reconcile with Jesus' teaching about not judging? How does this reconcile with the idea that 'we are none of us righteous, no not one'?

A way forward may be to consider Matthew 18.15-35, especially vv 15-17 (bear in mind that this gospel is written by a tax collector!) The structure for church discipline here is:
- take a matter up privately (the 'against you' in v15 may be spurious)
- take one or two other members of the congregation with you
- take it to the church body as a whole
- if the church is rejected then the sinner is outside the community.

The difference here is that it is the sinner's choice that places them outside the community; it is less a matter of condemnation than a refusal to accept forgiveness (the rest of Mt 18). In other words, the matter is less about whether a member of the community is a sinner - for we are all sinners - than whether the understanding within which sin is dealt with (repentance/forgiveness/new life) is shared. The issue is not about any individual act (however wicked); rather it is about how community life is to be maintained when it is structured on Jesus. Hence verse 11 - someone who calls himself a brother, but rejects the teaching of the community.

Different church communities have followed different policies on this over time. What sort of framework would be best for Mersea?

Notes on verses
v1 - the context is probably a stepmother and stepson following the death of the father; there may be an issue about securing an inheritance lying behind the controversy
v5 - 'hand this man over to Satan' - ie back into the world
v5b - the word 'his' is not in the Greek; the second half of this sentence may therefore be about the church (ie the expulsion saves _the_church_ on the day of the Lord)
vv7-8 - we'll come back to this when we explore communion later

A little something extra:
A brother in Scetis committed a fault. A council was called to which abba Moses was invited, but he refused to go to it. Then the priest sent someone to him, saying, 'Come, for everyone is waiting for you'. So he got up and went. He took a leaking jug and filled it with water and carried it with him. The others came out to meet him and said, 'What is this, father?' The old man said to them, 'My sins run out behind me, and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the sins of another.' When they heard that, they said no more to the brother but forgave him.

A brother asked abba Poemen, 'If I see my brother sin, is it right to say nothing about it?' The old man replied, 'Whenever we cover our brother's sin, God will cover ours; whenever we tell people about our brother's guilt, God will do the same about ours.'

A brother sinned and the priest ordered him to go out of the church; abba Bessarion got up and went out with him, saying 'I, too, am a sinner.'

(From 'Daily Readings with the Desert Fathers', ed Benedicta Ward)

Is Christ Divided? session 5

This week's sheet....
Notes for the house groups on 1 Corinthians.

Week five, beginning Sunday 20 May: 1 Corinthians 4.6 - 4.21

Main theme: the nature of power
apostolic style and authority

Questions to prompt discussion

1.What does 'do not go beyond what is written' mean?
2.How does this link with taking pride in 'one man over another'? Can you think of examples in the contemporary church (in UK and worldwide) where there is such pride?
3.Is there anything that a Christian can boast about? If only the cross, does this mean that a Christian should never enjoy a sense of achievement? (or similar)
4.Would you like Paul as your church leader? Paul is engaging with what he perceives to be the arrogance of the church community, and a large part of his method is sarcasm (vv 8-13) - but is sarcasm a form of blessing or answering kindly?
5.What is the power of the Kingdom of God? What is the context of Paul's statement - and therefore what is he suggesting specifically?

Some background thoughts
Paul is still struggling with 'party spirit' at Corinth. He has been talking about Apollos as an example, not because he is particularly angry with Apollos or disagrees with him, but because the Corinthians have distorted the faith through emphasising the importance of individual leaders. That is the 'idiom' of their culture, and against this Paul is emphasising the nature of apostolic leadership - humiliated and weak. There is a strong sense that the Corinthians have started to look down on Paul as a manual worker who doesn't speak well.

Paul is here exercising an episcopal role, ie oversight of the church community which he founded, and is using parental language to try and exercise discipline. It would appear that his attempt goes wrong, and the divisions are not overcome (see 2 Cor 1.23 - 2.4).

There are strong echoes of the cross (1.18-25) in Paul's description of apostolic ministry.

Notes on verses
v6 - "Few scholars claim to understand the allusion" to not go beyond what is written; yet I suspect that the point Paul was trying to make can be discerned. NB there was no New Testament at this time
v8 - almost certainly not economic riches or kingship, but figures of speech used by popular philosophers of the time
v9 - 'end of the procession' - captured prisoners dragged behind triumphant military leaders, usually to be executed as entertainment or sold into slavery
v14 - 'guardians' - literally childminders, babysitters
v14 - compare with 6.5

Is Christ Divided? session 4

Catching up...
Notes for the house groups on 1 Corinthians.

Week four, beginning Sunday 5 May: 1 Corinthians 3.1 - 4.5

Main theme: Divisions in the church
The nature of leadership
All things come from God
Party 'faction' is absurd - Christ is the sole foundation

Questions to prompt discussion

1.What is the nature of Paul's distinction between milk and solid food?
2.Why is division seen as a sign of spiritual infancy?
3.What is leadership? What is specifically Christian leadership?
4.What place does obedience play in your understanding of discipleship?
5.How is leadership judged, and by whom?
6.What builds a church? What are the good materials to use? Are they present in Mersea?
7.What is God's temple? How is this linked with the new temple of Christ's body?

Some background thoughts

The first part of this section is springing the rhetorical trap laid in the last chapter (remember the shift from 'I' language to 'we' language). Paul is very opposed to the idea of being aligned with a human leader or authority, as opposed to Christ - it a) places leaders on a pedestal, where they don't belong; b) causes faction and rivalry; and c) encourages them to consider human praise rather than divine judgement.

There are three metaphors here, discussing leadership: agriculture (v 3.5-9); building (v 3.9-17); and slavery (household servants) (4.1-5); in each of them Paul undercuts the importance of human leadership: The leader is a) the servant of the community, 'belonging' to the community (v 21-23); b) agents or instruments of Christ (no intrinsic merit - growth comes from God alone); and c) judged by God alone. In elevating human leadership the church is actually diminishing itself.

You might like to look at Hebrews 13.17!

Notes on verses
v 3.1 - infants in Christ are 'fleshly', vulnerable to sin; this isn't flesh vs spirit, but flesh governed by sin rather than flesh governed by spirit
v 4&5 - there is no indication that Paul disagrees doctrinally with Apollos - he wouldn't keep quiet about it if he did!
v 11 - the foundation in Christ, link with 1.23 (scandal)
v 13 - the day, cf 1.8
v 16 - the 'you' is plural, not singular (ie the congregation is the temple); possible parallel between Spirit dwelling in church and 'shekinah' presence in Jerusalem temple
v 4.1 - secret things of God = 'sacred mysteries' (link with Learning Church talk)

Is Christ Divided? session 3

I changed the format of these, due to complaints!! Click full post for text.
Notes for the house groups on 1 Corinthians.

Week three, beginning Sunday 29 April: 1 Corinthians 2.6 - 2.16

Main theme: spiritual wisdom;
not understood by the world, 'secret' and 'hidden';
requires being spiritual to be seen;
link with knowing Jesus (the 'mind of Christ').

Questions to prompt discussion

1.How do we know if someone is spiritual?
2.If you need to be spiritual to discern the truth - and therefore those who disagree must be unspiritual - how can we discern error in ourselves or in our community?
3.Can a Buddhist have 'the mind of Christ'?
4.Where does Paul quote from in verse 9? What does this indicate about worthy texts? And isn't it a wonderful text?!
5.What link is there between this passage (especially verses 11 and 15) and Jesus' command that we are not to judge (ie condemn) one another?
6.(A difficult one) - what is the difference between Paul's view and gnosticism (the view that it is by sharing secret knowledge - gnosis - that you are saved)?
7.Is Paul arguing that 'only the holy can see truly'? (Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God) - how can we cultivate this holiness in our own lives?

Some background thoughts

In this passage Paul may be deliberately using vocabulary that the Corinthians would have used of themselves, ie a spiritual elite, in order to set them up for a painful fall in the beginning of chapter 3. He tends not to use much of this language elsewhere. Note in particular the shift to using 'we' language - a rhetorical device to lull the listeners and lower their guard!

Paul employs a distinction between 'this age' - when there are worldly rulers - and 'the age to come' - when Christ is revealed as the true Lord of heaven and earth. Christians live 'in between' these two ages - as if we are living in the dawn light, we have started to see what is coming, the sun has not yet fully risen, and some deny that it ever will.

Notes on verses

v 6 'mature' could also be translated 'perfect' - cf Mt 5 43-48
v 6 'rulers of this age' - cf Rom 8.38, Eph 6.12, Col 2.15
v 9 may be a pastiche of Isaiah 64.4 and 65.17 - or a quotation from the now lost text 'The Apocalypse of Elijah' (according to the Church Father Origen)
v 9 'those who love him' - Old Testament way of describing the faithful community
v 13 is best translated: '...taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to spiritual people'


At worst we'll be charged and then let out on bail...

Saturday, May 19, 2007


You are never given a dream

without also being given the power to make it true.

You may have to work for it, however.

Be the change you want to see

Challenging words, but beloved and I have been thinking a lot about them recently, and - with a bit of humming and hawing we're probably going to sign up to the 90% reduction plan (see here).

Seems like every day there are things bringing it home.

The world is changing around us. Because we (ie western society) are so rich we can put off the day of reckoning for a little longer than most, but that just means that the reckoning will be all the harsher when it comes. Shifting to a different pattern of life is just battening down the hatches in preparation for a storm.

UPDATE: this is useful (there have been others, but this seems particularly readable).


Inspiration is flowing.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Spiderman 3

I went into this with lowered expectations, because I had picked up a 'vibe' that it was too convoluted and confusing.

I loved it. Possibly I was less confused than a non-initiate(!) but even so... and I was most delighted by the fairly explicit Christian message in it. I'm not sure I've seen such a positive portrayal of faith in a blockbuster before. I think it will repay repeated viewings - which is surely part of the purpose?

Anyhow, recommended.
If you like that sort of thing.
I appreciate that many of you don't ;-)

LUBH 6 - The apocalyptic imagination

Transcript of my sixth talk exploring the issues around Christianity and Peak Oil. This is about 7600 words, click full post for the text.

Good morning and welcome as we renew our sessions this morning talking about the end of the world, a suitably judgemental theme for Advent. The genre of apocalypse; the best examples in the Bible are the book of Daniel in the Old Testament and the book of Revelation in the New Testament, the end of the biblical sequence as a whole, it was a very influential genre between around 200 BC to 200 AD OK? It was very much the flavour of the thinking of those times and it has its roots in particular political events going on at that time, in particular the rule of the Roman Empire on the Promised Land, and the sense within the Jewish people that things weren't going as they had been promised and so the sense of hope and expectation got transferred into something a little bit more cosmic rather than focusing down on the concrete historical expectations. Maccabee, are people aware of the Maccabean revolt which was successful for a while in the second century BC, that was very much the political side of this environment, the Maccabee's led the revolt of the faithful but they ended up getting slaughtered. They had a kingdom for about twenty, thirty years but the Maccabeans, who were seen as righteous ended up getting slaughtered and you started to get a sense at this time of a future hope for the faithful which wasn't wholly bound in to the present history. So you had the adoption of the Resurrection becoming more prominent now.

Now apocalyptic as a genre has different forms, as you can imagine from reading Daniel and Revelation there are all sorts of visions going on, lots and lots of symbolism, all these beasts with various horns and things sprouting out of their heads and it is very much something which is politically applicable. So the beasts for example are normally gentile kingdoms, and the horns coming out of the beasts are the rulers of the different gentile kingdoms. So you can map quite closely, not perfectly, but quite closely a lot of the symbolic language in something like the book of Revelation on to the environment of the first century, the political environment of the first century. So that's that.

Now there are two different forms of apocalyptic - they can be vertical and the gnostic apocalypses are examples, very good examples of this and this is really where someone is lifted up into the realm of the angels, into the cosmic heaven and they see the truth, and we were talking a little bit about the gnostics before - about gnosticism is all about gaining access to the heavenly realm through understanding the truth and leaving the world behind. That's not actually Christian apocalyptic but there are elements of that which come in. So you have a vertical sense of apocalypse, which is going up into the heavenly realms, but you also have a horizontal realm of apocalypse which is much more biblical, so for example, Isaiah 24 is an example of this, where God brings the present structures of the world to destruction in order to accomplish his purposes within the world. So it is very much embedded in the historical narrative. Does that make sense as a general distinction?

So various themes in apocalyptic, that history is coming to a close. There is a cosmic cataclysm and there is a consummation of God's purposes and a recreation, and this has its roots in the prophetic criticisms of the status quo. You can see how it grows out of the prophecy, especially in the Old Testament. As I mentioned Isaiah 24 to 26 is a good example, but Ezekiel that definitely counts as one of the visionary sorts. So it has its roots in the prophetic literature. The one thing to be aware of which I have quoted in a couple of sermons recently, don't need to listen to it really, "within the mainline Jewish writings of this period, in other words 250BC to 200AD, within the mainline Jewish writings of this period, covering a wide range of styles, genres, political persuasions and theological perspectives, there is virtually no evidence that Jews were expecting the end of the space time universe. There is abundant evidence that they knew a good metaphor which they saw one, and used cosmic imagery to bring out the full theological significance of cataclysmic socio-political events". (Tom Wright)

Apocalyptic was a genre that was spread more widely than the Jewish people, and so you had the further Eastern apocalyptic literature which was much more about the end of everything. The Jews were much more concerned in having their roots in a prophetic side about criticising the unjust political arrangements and seeing God's activity as breaking into the world to act to bring about his purposes. So going back to the differences between the vertical and the horizontal, Jewish apocalyptic was much more concerned with the horizontal, God acting in history, not so much about leaving the world behind, destroying the world and being lifted up into the heavens. Alright, there's a very, very political thing.

Now, TEOTWAWKI, "The end of the world as we know it." One of the things of the internet you get all these acronyms and this one comes up quite a lot. There are lots of ways in which, I've gone through the list here, but I realise we can add in the fear of nuclear war, which was much more prevalent say in the sixties or seventies. There are all these different ways in which we as a society, or elements within our society, fasten onto to something which forecasts imminent doom. And there is a particular if you like mental structure which fastens on to these things and says this is why we are doomed, no this is why we're doomed, or add them all together and this is why we are doomed, and what's going on is that we are actually echoing the cultural shape of apocalyptic. In other words even if we are not aware of it we are interpreting events and information through the lens of apocalypse. OK? And people might say this is something that I have come across a lot in terms of debates and so forth, and they say, "Hang on I can't be influenced by apocalyptic because I'm not a Christian, I don't believe in that sort of stuff." Well it's a little bit like saying, "I've never read any Greek literature, I've never read Plato, therefore my thinking isn't shaped by it." It is something which is diffuse throughout our civilisation, OK. It is part of if you like the bedrock of our thinking, the river bed through which our thinking flows like the water.

So apocalyptic is very, very influential in the way that we, our culture understands, there is if you like an historical memory of this promise that the world is going to come to an end, and so there is a bit of us as a community which fastens on to these things, saying this is why we are doomed, and it starts to replay this process of apocalyptic.

Now it has a common shape. The world is wicked. Which is not really up for dispute, but the world, our present social arrangements and structure is wicked and God's wrath is coming to destroy it through this doom, this apocalypse. And the righteous will be redeemed and the wicked they will be punished, and what you then have is a new creation, OK? And there are lots of examples of this, I wonder how many of you are familiar with the 'left behind' sequence, which I have talked about sometimes before, which is semi-Christian version of this. The one which is fairly clear is about peak oil, you get, I have mentioned before, these people called doomers, and they say that because of peak oil, because of the contraction in available energy, because of the way that people react when they go hungry, they start to kill each other, civilisation throughout the world will collapse and in order to survive you have got to go off on all these survival courses, learn how to live off the land, go and live in a hut somewhere in the mountains, wait for all the cities to destroy themselves and then you will inherit the earth. And these are rampant atheists who develop this argument and can you see that the shape of what's being described - you've got a wicked world, you have got the righteous who will learn their survival skills, you've got the wicked who will be destroyed in the cities, there will be a great doom and collapse and then the righteous will come down from the hills and inherit the earth. In a new creation, a new garden of Eden. It's the shape that I am trying to get at. Does that make sense?

And you can see it on global warming, that's another one, James Lovelock, making these predictions about the world's going to come to an end, everyone’s going to be flooded, oh, but the British Isles won't be a bad place to live, and we need to hang on to our science and technology, because obviously that's what's is going to save us and then after the cataclysm then there is this new world within which we can live. This isn't the Christian vision of apocalypse.

Quote from James Allison "The commonly held understanding of hell [i.e. this punishment of the wicked] remains trapped within the apocalyptic imagination, that is, it is the result of a violent separation between the good and the evil worked by a vengeful God. It seems to me that if hell is understood thus we have quite simply not understood the Christian faith."
A challenging quotation.

Drawing on what I said last week about wrath, let's have a think about what is Jesus saying about the end of the world? Jesus having his agony in Gethsemane, quotation from a particular song that I like, "Everyone’s having a good time except Jesus who can't help talking about the end of the world." Because Jesus uses this language. But what is Jesus doing with the language of apocalyptic? Well, as I say he was living in the midst of the time when this language was prevalent. When everyone accepted this apocalyptic framework, that was if you like the common language of his time, but he is subverting it. He is subverting it, he is doing something different with it, if I can put it like this, he is not a doomer, he had something much more positive and inspirational to share.

Now the trouble with apocalyptic, what you might call the doomer perspective, it that it is dualist. It's all about splitting up, you have got splitting up between the good and evil. You have got a split between heaven and earth and you have got a split in time between now and the future. OK? And what Jesus does is overcome these dualisms. And just to work back, I'm going to talk mostly about that one, but that, do you need much persuading that Jesus is overcoming this division between the righteous and the wicked? You know he comes to sinners, not to the righteous, he spends all his time having meals with the prostitutes and the tax-collectors and the religious authorities criticise him for it. He is trying to overcome this division between those who are pure, who keep all the purity laws and so forth and those get excluded for various reasons, because they haven't got the right number of limbs, or they can't walk, he spends all his time with those who are wounded, not with those who are righteous. Make sense? That's the thing about that. That's if you like just a social side.

And this one, the great division between the realm of heaven and the realm of earth, symbolised by the curtain in the temple which gets torn into, the one word rejection of that is incarnation, you can't get more fundamental to the Christian belief. So at the heart of Christianity is an overcoming of these dualisms, these splits - think of that as being incarnation, think of that as Jesus going to the wounded, and I am going to spend most of my time thinking about between now and the future. Because what Jesus is doing is if you like bringing the end of the world to bear on how people live in the present moment. That's his agenda if you like.

Now a way of describing it, and I'm sorry to use long words, a way of describing it is to say that Jesus shifts our perspective from apocalyptic to eschatology. Eschatology is simply the study of the last things, the eschaton is the end, it's the full stop. It's the last moment the last judgement. So eschatology is the study of the last things, and the last things are of course the major theme in Advent as we look forward to Jesus second coming.

And so a phrase we might think of if is that we live in the end times, in other words Christians are called to live in the light of the end of the world, in the light of the last judgement. Now most of the time when Jesus is talking about this, he uses images that are sudden. They will come like a thief in the night. OK. Or think about the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, or the story about looking after your house, he emphasises suddenness, the immediate nature of it and so we have to live always as if it is about to happen. I saw a tea-cup, a mug the other day which said "Jesus is coming, look busy". Which captures something. And there is a phrase, I'm sorry to use the jargon, but it captures things, there is a phrase which Christian theology uses to talk about this perspective and its called a realised eschatology. What that means is that the end of the world in breaking in an applicable way now. So we live in the light of it now. It is not something that is happening in the future to which we needn't pay any attention.

Think of a bus driving along a mountain pass, imagine that the driver has absolute certainty and conviction that he will get to his destination safely. And that if for example he should go off the edge of the mountain, there are these wonderful angels who will lift the bus back on to the road. OK? That bus driver will view things rather differently than the bus driver who doesn't have that certainty but expects something dangerous to be possible and therefore pays attention to that present moment and lives if you like consciously and attentively to ensure that he drives properly and doesn't go off the edge of the cliff. Apocalypse is the first bus driver who has got a certainty about where things are going and therefore doesn't need to worry too much about what happens in the meantime. That's the 'left behind' understanding. OK? That's the understanding that says, "Yes let's have a war between Israel and the Arabs because that will bring about the Second Coming." It is that ideology.

But realised eschatology, what I am describing, says that we have to concentrate and live in the light of it now. We actually have to pay very very close attention to each moment in time because the judgement could be just around the corner. Does that make sense? Right. And we have a different way of describing it, we talk about it as being living in the Kingdom. You know, lots of standard Christian language and doctrine has its roots in this perspective. So we talk about as being living in the Kingdom. And I want to talk about it slightly differently about imagining a different future. This is Stanley Spencer’s "Cookham Resurrection" as if you like the vision which structures Christian ways of thought that that which was inaugurated on Easter morning shapes and conditions the way that we live here and now, OK? This is the foundational moment for Christian life and we live in the light of that.

So I want to talk about the nature of Christian imagination, but certainly this applies to me, I suspect it applies to others as well, there is this temptation to long for an apolcalypse in the way that I have been describing which is a little bit gnostic and dualist. And it is rooted in a hatred of the present system and a desire for judgement. For all these wicked oil companies who are exploiting the world, pumping out carbon dioxide, which are going to cause lots of destruction in the world, it is saying this is wrong – aaaargh! It is a very human response that those who are suffering or those who care about those who are suffering to long for God to act, for there to be same cataclysm and to say aaargh destroy it because it is causing so much pain. That if you like is the psychological root of the desire for apocalypse. And it is closely tied in to this sense of judgement and discrimination. It doesn’t even have to be I am innocent, so much as they are guilty, God destroy them, God damn them, OK.

But of course this is not the Christian perspective, because we are taught ever so clearly and directly that we are not to judge. And what this means isn’t just I’m not going to blame someone for something, it’s a let go the whole game and business of judging, of blaming, that whole game is what actually drives apocalypse, it drives lots of other things as well but we are to let go of this business of judging. Not in the sense of letting go of discrimination, of seeking to discern what the will of God is, but to stop playing the game of them and us, to stop playing the game of this lot are the righteous, we keep the rules, we keep the law, and that lot aren’t. It’s to accept that everyone is in the same boat, that we are all sinners, like it or not, we are all liable to judgement, and therefore giving up on judgement as a whole, not just sort of other people, but also ourselves, if you like we are set free from the curse of the law as Paul puts it. That’s what Paul’s talking about. We let go of this business of judgement.

Now Jesus says we must be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect and it gives this wonderful image of what that perfection is. He says the Father sends the rain on the just and the unjust, there is no judgement on the rain, it is not the wicked have this dark cloud above them pouring down rain and thunder and lightning, there is something much more generous and open-hearted about the perfection which we are called to follow. So this is very much at the heart of the Christian vision, that we let go of this process of judgement, of seeking to separate out the good and the evil. Think of what original sin is, when you bite the fruit you get the knowledge of good and evil, and what Jesus is doing is overcoming that original sin, He is taking away the consequences of that knowledge of good and evil and therefore “I’m good, you’re evil”, or even “I’m evil and you’re good.” Both of them are actually quite a long way from the Christian point of view, you need to let go of this process.

And the heart of it is a settled acceptance of the Father’s will. This is the Gethsemane moment. Not my will but thine be done. And therefore allowing God to be in charge of this process of judgement. And therefore being obedient. Obedience is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. Not being good, it’s all about obedience. And it is to have our imaginations shaped by who Christ is and what He shows. To follow in the steps that He has laid out for us. Which brings us to how we hope because hope is a fundamental Christian virtue. It maybe the Christian virtue. Faith, hope and love, put them all together.

The fundamental claim that roots all of Christian life and behaviour is that the Kingdom has begun. Now I have talked to you about everything being rooted in the Easter morning event. This is the good news, the evangel, that there is a new King. And remember this is what the original evangelists were, they were the heralds sent out after a battle to proclaim that a battle has taken place, there has been a victory, there is a new King. That’s what an evangelist is. OK, and Paul takes up this language and uses it to talk about Jesus, there has been a battle, there has been a victory and now there is a new King. And if you like the whole point of being a Christian is to live under this new King, this new authority.

And the Kingdom is breaking into the world as we speak, it’s not something that will be accomplished all at once at the end of time, it is something which is beginning, we are engaged in this process of starting to live by the rules of the Kingdom before we get to that point. That’s what the Church is. The Church is that community which lives by the rules of the Kingdom. In other words the Church is all those who accept that Jesus is Lord. Think of it like that, and live by it. That God is in charge, that His purposes will be accomplished. It is not up to us to achieve the salvation of the world, the world has been saved. We don’t have to save the world. You know: we don’t have to stand up giving talks about peak oil in order to save the world.

And a phrase which I am very fond of: we are resident aliens, if you like, we are immigrants within this community, we have ways of life which don’t belong to the world, we have ways of life which belong to the Kingdom, which is coming but not fully here yet. So we belong, our ways of life, our hearts are set upon a different Kingdom. And one of the crucial things about Christian hope, I said it’s a virtue. The point about virtues is that they are rooted in a decision, a settled will and they are practiced, they are a habit. It’s not that we feel hopeful. Christian hope is not a feeling, it doesn’t rest upon our emotional make-up. It is a decision to act according to this information about the new King. It’s a decision and a way of life. It’s not an internal emotional state.

I want to read a passage to you, this was a photograph I took on the beach this morning and I don’t know if you can see, there is a man here working on the beach digging up some crustaceans, mussels I guess, can you see it? And you’ve got his reflection, his actual body is here but his reflection is there. The point about the photo is that it’s before the dawn, the sun hadn’t come up but it is light. I think it’s a very good metaphor for where we are now, that we know the sun is rising and we can see as a result of that light but the sun hasn’t actually dawned yet. So have that as an image and this is John Chapter 3 verses 14 –21. “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life, for God did not send His son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” This is the verdict. The verdict if you like is the crisis, this is the judgement. “Light has come into the world but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”

We’re all working here in the darkness, and before we know about Christ we don’t really know whether our work is good or not. Once the light starts to dawn we can see the nature of the lives we are embedded in, and once the light comes up and we can start to see, that is when the crisis comes, that is when we have a choice to make. Do we stay trapped in the works of darkness or do we go towards the light? I love this bit. “They will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.” What’s that fear? It’s the fear of judgement. It’s the fear of being condemned. And it is the removal of that fear of condemnation which enables the walking into the light. The whole point about the good news it is that the process of judgement doesn’t have to apply. And the way it does apply and there is some very good, interesting parables that Jesus uses that talk about this, think about the parable of the talents, “Out of your own mouth, your judgement comes.” But if you believe that you are going to be judged and condemned for what you have been doing, then you resist what’s coming. But if you trust in God being benign, you are enabled to walk into the light. That is really the kernel of Christian hope, that we can change from how we have been. That we can turn towards the light and start to welcome it, as it comes, and that is a theme that runs throughout John’s gospel, it’s just particularly clear there I think.

So, the Christian imagination, it’s actually not about imagining the apocalypse because that’s the worldly vision but Jesus’s imagination is rather more rooted in love, it’s not about wrath in the sense of God getting very angry with the wicked, this is what I went through a couple of weeks ago. But the revelation, the light which is coming in, is about the truth of who we are. And it is to say it doesn’t have to be like this, this world which is not set up in the way that God intends us to live, this is not God’s intention. But the light which is dawning is revealing what God’s intention is, and it exposes the truth about who we are and how we live and therefore it sets us free from these processes. We now have a choice. Whereas before we were simply in darkness and we did not know, now we have the choice because the light of Christ is dawning. When Jesus says “I come not to bring peace but a sword”, this is what He is describing. That whereas before there was if you like a peace in the darkness, now that the light has come up the choice comes, the choice can be painful and there will be a clash between those who turn towards the light and go towards the light and those who stay in the darkness and don’t want people to go to the light, because it threatens their comfortable darkness. This is why those who turn to the light will be persecuted. That’s the way of the cross.

And it is profoundly political, small “p”, profoundly political in implication because it’s all to do with the structures of our lives, it’s about how we live, the choices that we make from day to day. And the wonderful thing is that the Kingdom is breaking in. Now. That’s the realised bit, realised eschatology. And we can share in it now. This is what the life of the Christian community is for. That we share in this Kingdom life which is the light, which leaves all the judgement and condemnation behind, because that is all about the apocalypse. Not about Christ’s vision of the end.

And this wonderful word “Metanoia” which gets translated as repent, which is fair enough, but it’s about changing our hearts, setting our hearts on the light, turning our hearts away from the darkness and turning to the light. Hence you have Jesus’s first words in the Gospel of Mark, “The time has come, the Kingdom of God is near, turn your hearts around and believe in the Good News.” That was true then, and is just as true now, it will remain true for as long as there are Christians, until He comes again in glory. Amen, come Lord Jesus.

I’ve got some other things I want to say, but I am going to pause there for any questions, comments. Does it make sense?

What is Y2K? The year 2000 the computer bug, not a bug really the way in which the computer systems were built up just to have two digits, so ’98, ’99, they realised that when it got to year 2000 the systems would be reset and because all the banking systems were built on this old technology they thought aaagrh this is going to cause a financial collapse, economic collapse, end of the world as we know it, blah, blah,. I hear varying things about Y2K, that some people say, oh it was all nonsense we got through it, and I read other things about people who were actually involved in reprogramming computers for banks who say actually we came very close to something very nasty happening, but because it was a problem with a deadline that was clearly understood, they could actually solve it and sort it. And there was a huge amount of effort put into solving it and sorting it, but those who I have read about and read stories from who were involved in the reprogramming said, Oh it was serious, thank God that we actually managed to solve the problem in time. Of course everyone thinks of the Y2K problem of being this great panic and illusion. There we go.

Redemption or salvation is the overcoming of those divisions, within us as much as anything else, that’s what the healing of our hearts is, that we are no longer if you like terrified by the darkness we’ve got and through not being terrified of it, through not thinking this darkness within me if going to expose me to terrible judgement and hellfire, through not being afraid of it we are healed of it and therefore that darkness gets redeemed and turned into something good. The problem is precisely the fear, and I keep quoting this, the command repeated most often in Scripture is “Do not be afraid.” To sum up the Bible, “Do not be afraid.” It’s a bit like Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “Don’t panic.” Bit of a sacrilegous comment!

Yes, I think the last judgement is rooted in that passage from John I read, that it’s not something where someone is angry, it’s not driven by anger, or wrath in that sense, it’s driven by – do you turn to the light? It’s like it is self-imposed, those who turn to the light are leaving judgement behind, but those who resist the light are embracing judgement, does that make sense, so Jesus is the judge, He is the arbiter, all judgement has been handed over from the Father to the Son. He is if you like guideline, but He doesn’t judge people, when you look at how he relates in His ministry to all those who are excluded or wounded, think of the Samaritan woman at the well, for example, He doesn’t judge or condemn, He invites. It’s either you leave behind this process of being caught up in the game of sin and judgement and separating out the good and the bad, or you actually turn to Him and allow Him to shape your life. So there is still a judgement but it’s not, this is the point to the James Allison quote, that hell is not to be understood through the apocalypse in that sense, through eschatology. It is the end of the world, it is a judgement but it’s not about wrath, which is what I went into a fortnight ago.

The way, it’s interesting how it’s translated, because I can’t remember exactly the Greek word, it’s the same word for judgement crisis and decision. So you could say that the last judgement is the last decision. That’s your last chance to turn to Christ. To turn to the light. The crisis is something which applies each and every moment that we are alive. That’s really the point that we live under that judgement every moment, and therefore how we live, we are exposed to judgement now and we make that choice here and now, we make that choice about whether we stay in the realms of darkness or we turn towards the light. I will go on to the next just handful of slides, because it will make the point clearer.

It’s not about moralism. To give a one sentence point, it’s not about, Christianity is not about moralism. We are halfway through this sequence of talks and I thought it might be a good moment to just review where we have been and set out where we are actually going, because we began by talking about Jeremiah, because I think Jeremiah is a very appropriate prophet for our day. He was living at a time in the twenty, thirty years before the exile and he said to the authorities we are living in a time of judgement and you have not been obedient to God, you are trusting in your own strength and power and therefore terrible things are coming, and of course then terrible things did come, Jerusalem was destroyed, the temple was torn down, all the leaders were taken off into exile, there was huge slaughter and so forth, and I think we have much to learn from Jeremiah and that scriptural strand of thinking that he represents. I then spent two sessions talking about the world problems that we face, at the beginning about peak oil, this is what I am particularly interested in and I think it’s the one which is really shaping our current world events in a profound way.

But then really stepping back from that specific problem and talking about the problem of exponential growth, in terms of human population, use of resources, availability of land, soil, farmland and so forth, water, that these are all together, they all wrap up, these are all common symptoms, of I believe a spiritual problem. But really this is if you like, the context of our judgement that we are going to experience. And then I am doing three sessions setting out in theological thinking some theological tools, if you like, which will then be applied.

Now the first theological tool was idolatry. That we can’t put anything in the place of God, and that if we put our trust in something else, because I talked mostly about science as a technique, but idolatry can apply in all sorts of ways, it is about how we structure our lives, and that if we structure our lives around something which isn’t the living God, then we are actually embracing death in a very literal, concrete sense most of the time. So that’s the first tool, idolatry, discerning where there is idol worship.

The second tool is the language of God’s wrath and I was wanting to disentangle if you like the pagan sense of wrath as being an angry God who has had his pride offended and therefore jumps up and down in anger and wants a sacrifice to appease, and a more Christian and Jewish sense from the temple period, where God is benign, acts only from love in order to redeem the people whom he loves, and therefore the ways in which our language of God’s wrath can apply is only in terms of us as a culture, as people, experiencing the consequences of our actions.

So for example, in the trivial sense, if you put your hand in a fire, you will be burnt. This does not mean that God’s angry with you, it means that this is the nature of the creation he has bestowed upon us. And that creation is consistent and established on certain rules and structures, and if we go against those rules and structures, like putting your hand in the fire, then we will experience pain as a consequence. OK, so that’s what I’m wanting to say that that’s a Christian sense of God’s wrath, not the pagan sense of a God leaping up and down because his pride has been hurt.

And then today talking about apocalypse, distinguishing again a more pagan sense of apocalypse as something which is certain and doesn’t actually have a daily application now to what I think Jesus is talking about as something which is bearing in upon us each and every moment of our lives, and that we have to change our lives according to that vision of the end of the world, and we have to change our lives now: "Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand". OK, that I think is a crucial theological resource for understanding things. So does that make sense? That’s the first half and these are the tools. What I want to do is go on and apply those tools in particular contexts. So next week I am going to do a talk called The Green Bible, because the Old Testament in particular is full of commands and advice about how we are to live in the world. And we have systematically gone against those commands because we have been worshipping idols. And therefore because of the way we have damaged God’s creation, we will experience God’s wrath as the consequences of that idolatry. OK? But because God is not wrathful and opens up this vision of the future for us, it’s not final. So it’s not doom, it’s eschatology to go back to what I was saying earlier. There’s a whole session next week, hopefully over time as we go through each one you will see how these theological concepts which I have been outlining apply and make a difference.

The one after that, I’m really going to be talking about social justice, poverty, world-wide poverty and the way in which this is so radically going against God’s commands. You know there are two thousand specific verses in the Bible about poverty and about poverty being abhorrent to God and our culture is built upon the widespread acceptance of poverty, think about the story of Dives and Lazarus in Luke’s gospel. The rich man enjoys all the fine things while there is a beggar at his gate and it’s not that the rich man has done something active against the beggar to cause him to be poor, it is simply that the rich man ignores him, and the rich man is then plunged into hell. OK, so that’s the theme for that one.

Then I want to talk about, specifically about Islam and terrorism and if you like why the Islamic perspective sees the West as the realm of Satan, because actually I think there are some very theologically astute criticisms made from that perspective which we need to listen to. But also to talk about the way in which foreign relations are dealt with in the Bible, because in the Old Testament especially, there is a lot about how the rulers of a society are to behave with regard to international affairs, and then finally I want to talk about worship. About the New Covenant, about how we are called into a different way of worshipping and how there are different ways of worshipping within different religions, within Christianity itself, but I want to really come down to the roots of what the New Covenant is about. OK, applying those concepts still.

And then the last handful I am going to be talking really about the Church, beginning with one of my favourite verses from Hosea, “With you is my contention O Priest.” Hosea Chapter 4 has this wonderful description of the way in which the idolatry of the community has led to environmental devastation. “Therefore the lands mourns and the fish die.” I mean how appropriate can a Biblical verse be in an environment where our fisheries are collapsing through so much rapacious greed being applied to how we fish as a community and society. And he goes on and says, “With you is my contention O Priest.” In other words it is because the religious authorities got it wrong that the world has gone wrong. And so I will have a bit of a rant.

Then penultimate session about discipleship, if you like the contention bit is going to be about all the bad things about the church and the discipleship bit is about describing the positive vision of what the church is for. Jesus doesn’t say go and convert everyone to Christianity in a sort of intellectual sense, he says go and make disciples of all nations. The church’s business is the making of disciples, and disciples are people who live in the light of the Kingdom. They live according to the laws of the Kingdom, they live according to the practices and customs of the Kingdom, not of the world. And so in that session what I want to do is spell out what it means to be a disciple, and how the church needs to function in order that what the church does is make disciples.

And then the last session I’ll sum up and gather the different threads together. So this is half time, done some necessary spade work, and hopefully over the next three or four sessions you will see it being applied and that will hopefully really help to make the concepts work and make sense for you as you see them being applied to different contexts.

Hang on to the image of the bus driver that I used where a faceless bus driver says he is going to get to the end no matter what, whereas I think the Christian bus driver is paying very close attention to every moment, because at any moment a lorry could come round the corner and knock him off, for example. So I’m not fatalist but having said that I do think there is something important about accepting that God is in charge and that God will achieve his purposes in the end. Let me give you an analogy, this is something that my theology tutor gave to me many years ago which I think is wonderful, that God is the perfect dancer. Think of “Strictly Come Dancing” or whatever, and we are the bride, we are taking the female part of the process and God is groom taking the male part of the process, and therefore God leads, and our purpose is to follow God’s lead. But the thing is we get things wrong, we’re not really that good a dancer. But God is so good a dancer that he can take our mistakes and incorporate them into the dance so that his purpose, his dancing is accomplished. We still have the ability to make mistakes, we still have the ability to experience God’s wrath falling down upon us, but God remains in charge, God remains the one leading the process and his purposes will be accomplished in the end, which I think gives a good balance between our ability to choose and God’s sovereignty. Does that make sense?

I think we are on the dance floor already, I think that’s what … we are embedded in the work of the world already. The invitation to the dance is the invitation to turn towards the light. I think there is that but it’s – you know do we actually join in with the dance, not worrying about whether we are going to get the steps right, or do we refuse to go onto the dance floor because we are so terrified that we are going to make a mistake and be condemned for it? This is why The Lord of the Dance is such a good hymn. A lot of it is tied up in it. The dance goes on. Shall we stop there? Thank you very much for coming. Next week the Green Bible, all of God’s commands about looking after our environment.


You may be right.
I may be crazy.
But I just might be the lunatic you're looking for.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Apologia pro video sua

The other day, a colleague and friend and regular reader of this blog commented that I had crap taste in films. Well, sort of - but there's more to be said about that I think. And as there is today a synchroblog on the subject of Christianity and film I thought I'd say a few things on the subject.

Firstly, let's hear from the great man Wittgenstein, who went to the cinema every week to relax (he especially liked Westerns):

"A typical American film, naive and silly, can - for all its silliness and even by means of it - be instructive. A fatuous, self-conscious English film can teach one nothing. I have often learnt a lesson from a silly American film."

So the first thing I'd want to say is that, like Wittgenstein, the majority of films I watch are primarily viewed for relaxation. I spend such a lot of my day doing intellectual analysis of one sort or another that I precisely don't want to engage in intellectual analysis when I'm relaxing! Hence the high quantity of 'junk' in what I watch. But that isn't the end of the story, as the man attests.

The thing is, the analytical muscles only go quiescent, they never get fully turned off, and the films that I most enjoy are the ones which engage the muscles without ever taxing them too much, and that primarily means allowing the story itself to do the work.

Now I am fully aware of, and reasonably conversant with, the way in which film is an artistic form of its own (see this book); I am also well aware of the way in which film is 'sculpting in time', and has an essential aesthetic element (primarily through the cinematography). Those things I can understand and appreciate, and get me on a good day and I will happily discuss those more refined areas. But most of the time what I am interested in is a) story, and b) character development, ie the exploration of what it means to be human.

Now clearly this is something which the 'great' films can do astonishingly well (I'm thinking of the Kieslowski trilogy, for example). Yet it is also something which can be done in the 'silly' films. Take Cameron Crowe's Vanilla Sky, which I reference in an important way in my 'The Colour of my Shirt' post - let those who have seen the film understand. That film dug into my subconscious in a way few films have, and has borne a great deal of further thought. Yet Cameron Crowe isn't a great director - something that was brought home to me quite alarmingly when I listened to the director's commentary on the DVD, which really shattered some illusions and made me realise he was a bit of a hack! I think with that film there was just a grace about everyone involved, so that the ensemble worked.

But the point I really want to make is about whether a film is edifying, in a Christian sense. For in that conversation last week, we also touched on Magnolia, which is one of my all-time favourite films, and which I view as a profoundly Christian work. Yet it is also a gruelling film to watch - an extreme portrait of present society which doesn't flinch from the cruelties of contemporary life. It isn't something that might naturally be seen as Christian. Yet it is thoroughly informed by a Biblical outlook, and it is, in the most important sense, orthodox.

What do I mean by orthodox? I mean informed by the resurrection; the opposite of nihilist. Is there metanoia? Is there redemption? Or are we told that life is dark and then we die? I would say that the thread of orthodoxy can be seen more clearly in some of the darker corners of the film world (eg horror, sci-fi) than in the more mainstream and 'artistic' areas. (My post on Sin City covers some of this ground in more depth).

That's what I most look for, when I am after an evening's entertainment. Something that will absorb me, take me somewhere away from my preoccupations for a little while, but ultimately, something orthodox. At the end of the day there is no peace without Christ.

Lots of others blogging on this today:
Steve Hayes ponders The Image of Christianity in Films
Adam Gonnerman pokes at The Spider's Pardon
David Fisher thinks that Jesus Loves Sci-Fi
John Morehead considers Christians and Horror Redux: From Knee-Jerk Revulsion to Critical Engagement
Marieke Schwartz lights it up with Counter-hegemony: Jesus loves Borat
Mike Bursell muses about Christianity at the Movies
Jenelle D'Alessandro tells us Why Bjork Will Never Act Again
Cobus van Wyngaard contemplates Theology and Film (as art)
Tim Abbott tells us to Bring your own meaning...?
Sonja Andrews visits The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: Christ in Spaghetti Westerns
Steve Hollinghurst takes a stab at The Gospel According to Buffy
Les Chatwin insists We Don't Need Another Hero
Lance Cummings says The Wooden Wheel Keeps Turning
John Smulo weaves a tale about Spiderman 3 and the Shadow
Josh Rivera at The Rivera Blog
Phil Wyman throws out the Frisbee: Time to Toss it Back


Second consecutive morning of oversleeping by more than two hours - I think it has something to do with my cutting back my caffeine intake over the last few days, as I haven't been going to bed any later than usual. Anyhow, it meant that Ollie got taken out by the rest of the family, so this morning you get a couple of pictures I took a few days ago in the evening...

Monday, May 14, 2007


Did this yesterday, but couldn't find out how to get the 'embed' code (HT originally Peter Chattaway, then *Christopher this morning).
Slightly different answers the second time, but the same creature!


Struggling with daemons...