Sunday, September 30, 2007

For all you boatie fans

Not often you get a ship this beautiful off the Island.


I caught the sunrise just at the right time this morning. I've put a few more photos on my flickr account (click the link to the right).

Film ratings

After that really interesting debate over Tarantino I'm going to start including a rating whenever I comment on a film. In ascending order:

One star: a film which fails on several levels (acting, directing, cinematography, screenplay, music etc) and which otherwise has no signs of intelligent life.
Two star: a film which is essentially a let-down and doesn't work, but where there are some elements of interest.
Three star: a film which achieves what it sets out to achieve; most blockbusters will fall into this category. Competent direction and acting, "high production values".
Four star: a film which is at least competent in all the different areas of cinematic endeavour but which is lifted above the run of the mill by some particular touch of greatness, either a tremendous acting performance, epic visuals, interesting plot etc.
Five star: a film which is excellent in the different areas but which also achieves a resonance with profound spiritual values; the equivalent of an orchestra all working to the same end; "filmic".

Make sense? I will use half-marks occasionally.

Some examples:
I will hardly ever watch a one...
Deathproof gets a 2. As did Ocean's Twelve which was the last really bad film I endured. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is a classic 2 - didn't really work, but there were interesting elements in it, so I didn't regret watching it.
Elizabethtown gets a 3. Most Tom Cruise films get a 3 (but see below)!
Devil's Advocate gets a 4 - a very competent film that has some startling shocks in it and a good solid message. Phone Booth is another - something which was a step up from the usual blockbuster. Shaun of the Dead; Crash (not the Cronenberg); lots of Coen Brothers films.
Top of the range? Magnolia; Blade Runner; American Beauty; Babette's Feast; The Matrix; Eternal Sunshine; City of God; anything by Tarkovsky.... In each of these the elements all come together and make a wonderfully coherent and satisfying whole.

Of course: De gustibus non est disputandum


Caught this by accident last night; I had read a lot of bad reviews about it so hadn't bothered chasing it down, but started watching about 20 minutes in and became absorbed, and I really enjoyed the last quarter-hour or so. I tend to like Cameron Crowe films, and I had completely forgotten this was by him, so when his name came up at the end it was 'Ah....'.

Three out of five. (I'm going to start rating films - and I'm going to put up a post explaining the ratings.)


I want you to get into the deep beautiful melancholy of everything that's happened...

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Lesbian Werewolves

You might think that the title is a gratuitous attempt to garner more hits for my blog. And you'd be right. But reading this post I just couldn't stop laughing, so I thought I'd pass it along....
Ellen and Olivia go on to talk more about why this isn't in anyway an actual werewolf movie. Contrary to the way that it's described, it's more of a relationship drama. It just falls into the category of "lesbian werewolf movie" because that's the simplest way to identify it amongst other indie dramas...

She should come along to the White Hart on a Monday night...

The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold, a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners! And wisdom is justified by her works.


What is evangelicalism?

John Richardson gives an answer here and here. I think I'll be quoting him when it comes to my talks.


Wade into the water with me, wash my body down
Take me to the bottom baby, I won't make a sound
Baptise me like a child, let salvation start
'Cause if you take me to the bottom of the river baby
I'll take you to the bottom of my heart

Friday, September 28, 2007

Is Christ Divided? session 13

Next week's notes. Should the Rector cut his hair?

Is Christ Divided?
Notes for the house groups on 1 Corinthians.

Week thirteen, beginning Sunday 30 September: 1 Corinthians 11.2-16
Main themes: Hair length(!), headship and gender relations

Questions to prompt discussion

1.In what way are women under the authority of men? Should they be? What would be an appropriate sign for what Paul is describing? Are women made in the image of God?
2.Should the Rector cut his hair? If so, should women wear hats in church? If 'no' to either or both - where does that leave us with regard to the authority of Paul's teachings?

Supplementary thoughts:
Paul uses the language of headship, both literal and metaphorical, throughout this passage. It may help to ponder some of the different ways in which 'headship' can be understood - consider 'head of the family', 'head of the river', 'head of steam' etc. We need to be alert to the different ways in which this language can be used. However, there are limits to this approach - see note on verse 10.

Paul assumes that in creation there is an unambiguous distinction between male and female, and this underlies his teaching here. In worship we are not to be anything other than how we are created (worship is the restoration of creation), for that would offend the angels. Given what we now know about trans-gender and related issues there is a genuine issue about whether Paul's fundamental assumption remains true. The issues around hair-length and head coverings remain salient in our culture - consider the debate about the wearing of muslim headscarves. Our culture has changed drastically in living memory away from one where Paul's teaching would be unremarkable. However other periods in our own history, and certainly other cultures around the world, would have very different expectations. The key issue is whether we believe hair length/ head covering is a cultural question or a 'creation' question, ie something inherent in our given nature.

NB the head covering that Paul is referring to is not a hat, it is a hood integrated with the robe/gown being worn (think Lord of the Rings). It is possible that women's practice at Corinth was a way of asserting either their equality with men (see Gal 3.28, or that it was an equivalent to a nun's 'wedding ring', ie saying that they were 'married' to Christ. It may also be an indication of the informality or closeness (quasi-familial closeness; koinonia) of some of the relationships at Corinth.

Notes on verses
v 3 - see 3.23 and 15.28
v 7 - compare with Genesis 1.26-7
v 10 - it is possible that the 'sign of authority' referred to here is something which gives a woman authority to pray and prophesy, ie a sign that the woman has accepted male authority over her. In any case this verse is unambiguous in asserting male authority over females.
v 10 - the 'angels' are probably a reference to celestial entities accompanying Christian worship (the Dead Sea Scrolls have a similar reference).

Is Christ Divided? session 12

Session 12, which should have been put up last week.

Is Christ Divided?
Notes for the house groups on 1 Corinthians.

Week twelve, beginning Sunday 23 September: 1 Corinthians 10

Main themes: Eucharistic sharing and table manners

Questions to prompt discussion

1.What does it mean to participate in the blood of Christ?
2.What are demons?
3.Is St Paul opposed to vegetarianism?
4.Can you apply Paul's arguments here to issues other than meat-eating? What would happen if you applied it to the discussion of slavery?

Supplementary thoughts:
What the NIV translates as 'participation' is the Greek word koinonia which means communion and fellowship; a very rich word which can't be trivially translated! (compare Acts 2.42 - they devoted themselves to the apostle's teaching and the koinonia) How you interpret Paul's teaching depends much on how you understand this word. Is this describing something symbolic or is there a fundamental reality to sharing in the nature of Christ through sharing in the meal? Consider Paul's reference to the sacrifices offered in the Temple (v 18)

In the time that Paul was writing the word 'daimon' did not have unequivocally negative connotations, and it refers to spiritual beings or influences which were not as powerful as the gods (let alone God). Think about Paul's use of the word and compare it with the language in Ephesians 6.12.

Paul is employing a distinction between 'the menu and the venue'. Eating meat from the market place is not a problem - all of creation belongs to God - but taking part in a sacrifical meal IS a problem, because of the religious and worshipping connotations. There was undoubtedly a desire on the part of some in the Corinthian community to not face up to the social ostracism that followed on from a refusal to participate in these social rituals. Paul is emphasising the seriousness of what is at stake. Paul is very clear-sighted here about what is of spiritual significance, and what isn't, and emphasises that for the Christian 'Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others'. The issue is not so much what is actually done (eating meat) so much as the context - and therefore meaning - of what is done; in particular, whether there is anything idolatrous taking place. If it can be done 'to the glory of God' - and without harming others - then it is permissible.

Notes on verses

v16 - koinonia - variant forms throughout this paragraph
v 18 - everyone who consumed meat from the sacrifice offered in the Temple shares in the rite and the benefits of the rite
v 22 - compare Deuteronomy 32.21
v 23 - refers back to 6.12
v 28 - unclear if the objector is a fellow Christian or not
v 32 - refer back to the discussions on 'offence' in previous weeks for more context


I was alright
For a while
I could smile
For a while

(BTW thanks for the prayers yesterday, I think they've been answered)

Thursday, September 27, 2007


Highest tides of the year at the moment - which also means the lowest tides, which these piccies show.

The thin crust of civilisation

Amazing story on the BBC here.
"On the same day Hoecker and SS women were snapped enjoying blueberries, records show 150 prisoners arrived at Auschwitz. The SS selected 33 for work and gassed the rest."


Deeply troubled and saddened by a parish matter. May be nothing; may be vital.

"Thunder and Rainbows from the same sky."

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Death proof

Lipstick on a pig. Possibly the worst film I've seen this year. Misogynistic, then misanthropic; plotless, pitiless and puerile.

September Synchroblog: On astrology and faith

This month's synchroblog, on Christianity and neo-paganism - defined very generously! Click full post for text.

In the days of my dissolute youth, ie when I was an aggressively atheist teenager, I spent a lot of time exploring the occult in general, and astrology in particular. I still have my set of tarot cards and a crystal ball (the latter of which can be useful for meditation!). I often muse upon Kahlil Gibran's words from the Prophet, which I think describe that time in my life quite well:
"Of the good in you I can speak, but not of the evil. For what is evil but good tortured by its own hunger and thirst? Verily when good is hungry it seeks food even in dark caves, and when it thirsts, it drinks even of dead waters."

Although I started down the journey of Christian faith when I was twenty, it took me a long time to perceive that there was anything spiritually harmful about astrology, so this is a brief post about what I have come to understand about it (and why, although I cannot 'unknow' what I know, I no longer cast horoscopes and so on).

Let me begin by quickly touching on two areas of concern: Scriptural and scientific. Scripture seems to me to be ambiguous about astrology. On the one hand there are clear prohibitions against divination in both Old and New Testaments; on the other hand the great story which we celebrate at Christmas unambiguously has wise men being led to Christ by their astrological learning. Beyond that, passages like Ezekiel 1 are clearly informed by the Babylonian culture from which present day astrology derives, and the four beasts correspond to the four fixed signs of the zodiac - as do the four signs traditionally given to the four evangelists. As I say, an ambiguous picture.

With regard to science I am well aware of all the arguments adduced on both sides of the debate - the Dawkinsesque dismissals and the statistical work of Michel Gauquelin, and my feeling is that this is a no-man's land, blasted to smithereens, where no intelligent discernment is possible. My suspicion is that horoscopes may function as a type of Rorschach test and simply dig out material from our own unconscious, ie there is nothing external to the personality involved.

However, I don't really want to get involved in those two debates. What I want to say, albeit briefly, is why I think exploring astrological lore is at best unhelpful to our spiritual journey, and at worse actively malefic and harmful. My concerns centre on two things: motive and trust.

For me, the thirst driving the exploration of astrology was a thirst for knowledge. I wanted to know what the 'fates' had in store for me. More subtly, and more defensibly, I used astrology as a means to greater self-knowledge. Whatever the objective truth of the situation - and whether it was simply coincidence or not - discovering the meaning of the various elements in my own chart was very helpful in allowing me to come to terms with the different bits of my personality. For example, the fact that I have Neptune (planet of spirituality) in my tenth house (career) would indicate a vocation towards something like priesthood (or psychotherapeutic practice or counselling). Pure coincidence! As it happens my own chart is full of contradictions and oppositions, and the language of astrology gave me a language to describe and then digest those contradictions (the process is by no means complete!). Also, most especially through the writings of Liz Greene (but see this), studying astrology gave me a reasonable knowledge of therapy, especially Jungian analysis, and that has been helpful as well.

However, my thirst for knowledge wasn't satisfied by self-knowledge, I wanted to know about other people, and I wanted to know about the world - about what was going to happen to it, what was going to happen to the people I loved (this is what is called horary astrology). This is where the dangerous side of astrology started to become clear to me. To begin with my experience was that nothing could be predicted, and I understood this to be simply a reflection of my own lack of expertise. So I studied and delved all the more deeply.

God's grace being what it is, however, I came to a realisation soon after turning thirty that the problem did not lie in my lack of expertise so much as in my motivation. That is, what was driving me was rooted in spiritual ill-health, principally fear and greed. I was afraid of bad things happening to me; I wanted to be in control of my life; I wanted to get a comparative advantage over those without this occult knowledge. I came to realise that all these motivations are antithetical to Christian faith; that in truth Christian faith is precisely the dissolving of such motivations.

That discovery is what removed my motivation to explore astrology any more. What is at issue is whether we trust God or not; in particular, whether we trust God to lead us in our daily lives. If, for example, we pray, and we seek the light of Christ, and we trust that we will be shown what to do - then what need is there for this further knowledge that astrology claims to provide? More profoundly, astrological knowledge is something that is obtained by deceptive means, it doesn't involve any personal engagement with a situation. It is always one step removed from reality (in that sense - and not in that sense alone - it bears a remarkably strong resemblance to scientific practice).

My belief is that Christian understanding is always predicated on love - that a situation, and most especially a person, can only be known when they are loved; that love is the highest form of knowledge; that love is precisely a participation in the mind of God. This will, from a human point of view, always involve risk, putting something at stake. It cannot be fostered from a position of safety, for that is isolation from the other - love is precisely an engagement with the other. We are called, as Christians, to walk with faith - to trust that the Lord will enlighten our path, that we will be led forward in the way, even if only one step at a time - and, most profoundly of all, the path of faith is precisely the path of trusting in what may come, trusting that God is in charge and that in the end all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well. The conclusion I reached was that astrology violates that approach and attitude - it is a snare of anti-faith, it is an inhibition of love - and that this is why divination is prohibited in such strong terms in Scripture. It's not a question of knowledge, it's not a question of whether astrology is 'true' or not - that's beside the point from this perspective - it's a question of whether we trust in God or not, whether we wish to develop our capacity for love. The thirst that drove me into the occult has found a living stream from which to drink, and now I simply want to learn how to love.

Other people writing this month:

  • Matthew Stone at Matt Stone Journeys in Between
  • John Smulo at
  • Steve Hayes at Notes from underground on Christianity, paganism and literature
  • Heathens and Pagans and Witches ... oh my! at Calacirian
  • Erin Word at Decompressing Faith
  • Chasing the Wild Goose at Eternal Echoes
  • Visigoths Ahoy! at Mike's Musings
  • Phil Wyman at Phil Wyman's Square No More
  • Steve Hollinghurst at On Earth as in Heaven
  • Undefined Desire at Igneous Quill
  • A Walk on the Wild Side at Out of the Cocoon
  • Observations on Magic in Western Religion at My Contemplations
  • Tim Abbott at Tim Abbott
  • Spirituality and the Zodiac: Stories in the Cosmos at Be the Revolution
  • Rejection, Redemption, and Roots at One Hand Clapping

  • TBTM20070926

    The stars move still, time runs, the clock will strike,
    The devil will come, and Faustus must be damned.

    Tuesday, September 25, 2007

    Monday, September 24, 2007

    Sunday, September 23, 2007

    Saturday, September 22, 2007

    Be realistic

    Great post here about what we can do about global warming - and it applies to Peak Oil as well - which is darkly humourous and delightfully to the point.


    Viva la revolucion

    Thursday, September 20, 2007

    Something on postmodernism

    This is a Blue Peter post - a talk I gave at Heythrop in 1996.

    1.I have to admit to having been taken aback when Peter asked me to present a paper on postmodernism. Before doing some reading for this paper I knew nothing about the subject, so what you are about to hear is the result of a fairly skimpy reading of some of the relevant texts. There is much more to postmodernism than I deal with here, in particular whether postmodernism is actually a form of modernism, rather than a separate intellectual movement in its own right. What writing this paper has done, however, is bring me into touch with the continental tradition of philosophy: something that, having done my first degree at Oxford, I was wholly lacking in preparation for.

    2.What I will do in this paper is first explain what I think postmodernism is; then describe what its view of the self is; and then offer some criticisms and thoughts of my own.

    What is postmodernism?
    3.Postmodernism is very much a trendy concept, so trendy in fact that when Michel Foucault was asked to comment on it shortly before his death he commented ‘What are we calling postmodernity? I am not up to date.' What I will discuss here is my understanding of postmodernism; of course, as you will see, a postmodernist would say that I could never provide anything else anyway.

    4.Talk of postmodernism has been worked out in three fields in particular: art, politics and philosophy. In art it can be said to refer to the rejection of the functionality and austerity of the modernist movement, eg in architecture, in favour of a heterogeneity of styles, drawing on varied traditions from the past and from mass culture. In politics it refers to a perceived shift in the economic basis of production, away from a ‘Fordist' system of mass, automated industrial production towards one characterised by information technology and in which knowledge itself is the principal force of production. In philosophy postmodernism is characterised by a stress on the fragmentary, heterogeneous and plural nature of reality, in particular, where an appeal to an objective account of reality is rendered necessarily incoherent.

    5.The overall definition that I have found most useful, and which could be said to underlie the movements mentioned above is that postmodernism is best characterised as ‘incredulity towards meta-narratives' (Jean-Francois Lyotard). A meta-narrative is an overarching theoretical framework, within which actions and thought make sense. For example, Marxism provides a meta-narrative describing the economic forces leading to revolution and the eventual triumph of the bourgeoisie; Christianity provides a meta-narrative in which God is working out his salvific plan for the human race. Incredulity towards such meta-narratives involves denying, or being suspicious of, their claims to truth. In fact, it is this sense of suspicion that seems to characterise postmodernism. A key element in the thought of postmodernism is that all appeals to truth are no more than disguised bids for power and self-affirmation. This is an element of their thought that originates with Nietzche: ‘all that exists consists in interpretations' and the particular interpretation promulgated is that which serves the interests of the person doing the promulgation. In particular there is the denial of even the possibility of a universal truth, and this is a point that I will return to.

    The postmodern self
    6.Postmodernism then can be characterised by this distancing from grand theories about truth or value. Where does this leave the self? The postmodern self is characterised by being trapped within a network of power interests, in which it plays out various roles that are dictated by others. The postmodern self perceives itself as having lost control as an active agent; it is a pawn in a larger game; and a larger game, furthermore, from which no meaning can be derived. In this sense a particularly postmodern author is Kafka: all understanding, and perhaps as a consequence all personal meaning, is denied the hero of his novels. In contrast to an autonomous, self-authenticating hero able to choose their destiny (or at least to participate meaningfully in the working out of their destiny) the postmodern self is essentially flotsam floating on the surface of stormy waters, being driven to and fro.

    7.This can be developed further. Anthony Thiselton writes:

    ‘the self of postmodernity has become de-centred. It no longer regards itself as active agent carving out any possibility with the aid of natural and social sciences, but as an opaque product of variable roles and performances which have been imposed upon it by the constraints of society and by its own inner drives or conflicts'.

    In postmodernism the self is seen as illusory: the self is composed of various subpersonal and transpersonal desires and forces that control the actions and processes experienced. There is no longer a stable entity that can be referred to as the self; there are only more or less continuous impressions, some of which cohere and others that do not. Postmodernism declares that there can be no confidence in believing that you can control your own destiny - to believe that you can is to fall victim to the power interests of others (which need not be personal themselves) where you should instead be suspicious.

    8.This might seem to be rather a bleak conclusion, yet (ironically enough) postmodernism is actually characterised best by ‘jouissance' - an enjoyment in playing games, irony and pastiche. According to a recent New Statesman article, the film ‘Pulp Fiction' represented postmodernism ‘with shake and fries to go': the film could be described as nihilistic, but it certainly qualifies as entertainment.

    9.Postmodernism, therefore, could be characterised as a cultural phenomenon by the playing with cultural forms and concepts, thrown together to see what might result. I am rather taken by Umberto Eco's assessment of what postmodernism consists in:

    ‘I think of the postmodern attitude as that of a man who is in love with a very cultivated woman and knows that he cannot say to her "I love you madly" because he knows that she knows (and that she knows that he knows) that these words have already been written by Barbara Cartland. Still, there is a solution. He can say ‘As Barbara Cartland might put it, I love you madly.' At this point, having avoided false innocence, having said clearly that it is no longer possible to speak innocently, he will nevertheless have said what he wanted to say to the woman: that he loves her, but he loves her in an age of lost innocence. If the woman goes along with this, she will have received a declaration of love all the same. Neither of the two speakers will feel innocent, both will have accepted the challenge of the past, of the already said, which cannot be eliminated; both will consciously and with pleasure play the game of irony...But both will have succeeded, once again, in speaking of love.'

    The postmodern self is defined and determined by the heritage that it finds itself in - it is impossible to be authentic in any existential sense. One could almost characterise postmodernism as the impossibility of being novel, so that creativity becomes of necessity parasitic on older art. A good example might be the prevalence of mixing in pop records of recent times. Whereas in the seventies those who were protesting destroyed what they saw as a corrupt older order, now bands are consciously drawing on previous models, playing at being rock stars who hope they die before they get old. It is as if the past has become oppressive, and if it is hard to bring something new into existence then ridicule is the only avenue open.

    10.As I said above, this is rather a bleak conception of human nature, and it is not one that I find particularly convincing. In the first instance we must, of course, apply a properly postmodern suspicion to the claims of postmodernism itself. Postmodernism is founded on the view that all language, particularly all claims to truth, are disguised power bids. Is this really the case? Consider the following uses of language:

    Does the baby need changing?
    Look out!
    I'm sorry, I was wrong.
    Would you like some tea?

    Of course, these could be used as power bids (in the first example, perhaps one partner is trying to get the other to make a contribution to helping raise the child) but the fact that they could be so used does not mean that they necessarily have to be so used. It is quite easy to imagine situations in which the issue of power politics does not arise. I would imagine that if you try and think of a situation where power politics isn't an issue then it will be a time when you felt at ease, or perhaps, more positively, it was a time when there was real human contact being developed: there was a conversation and you felt that you were really being listened to. In the face of such instances one can accept the postmodern description, with all that follows, or be suspicious of the meta-narrative that it provides.

    11.Unfortunately, when the meta-narrative is subjected to analysis and assessed it becomes banal. If we accept that not all language (and not all behaviour) is based on power politics then the postmodern claim is that in many cases language is being used to further someone's ulterior motives. Well yes. Obviously.

    12.I think that there is a more fundamental weakness in the postmodern position, and these weaknesses may apply to other elements of modern continental philosophy. The driving force behind the postmodern position appears to be this incredulity towards truth claims, the view that no truth claim can be objectively justified. But why does a truth claim need to be objectively justified, and what does objective justification mean in this context? I suspect that the postmodernists have seen a situation where previously accepted norms are no longer tenable, where the old order is breaking down, but they are still analysing the situation using the previous order's methods and assumptions.

    13.For example, I can accept that we have no objective justification for particular truth claims, but this does not mean that I reject all notion of truth, and certainly does not mean that I see myself as a passive participant in my life. You could say that the old order made a fetish of ‘Truth' as a Platonic form and that such a conception is no longer tenable. You are still left with choice in such a situation. The postmodern option is to leave the debate in its present form, reject one side of the argument and say that as there is no ‘Truth' you become a piece of flotsam. Alternatively you could say that the debate has been miscast, that we ought to speak of truths rather than the ‘Truth', and that therefore our lives can be based upon other meanings and other centres. Why should a linguistic or philosophical assessment dictate the nature of our lives? Fleshing this out would require another paper though.

    14.I do have some sympathies with a postmodern understanding, although, as explained above, I think that it continues to absolutise something which needs to be relativised. The impression that I am left with is that postmodernism is a cultural phenomenon, rather than a substantial intellectual movement in its own right. The flavour is of a fin-de-siecle mentality where everything is being thrown into the melting pot and odd smells are coming out. My suspicion is that it is a clearing out of the old and that something new is about to come along:

    ‘The old is dying, and the new cannot yet be born. In the interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear'
    (Antonio Gramsci)

    Sam Norton
    March 1996

    Memes: a science in search of a subject matter

    This is from a (more than a year old) TLS article I've just read:

    " significant body of empirical research has grown up around the meme concept... nor has memetics made empirically testable propositions or generated much in the way of experimental or observational data. In fact the memetic literature remains devoted almost exclusively to theoretical antagonisms, internecine battles, and scholastic elucidations of prior writing on memes. This is typically the sign of a science in search of a subject matter."

    (The biologist Robert Aunger)


    I'm shocked but I'm not surprised, if that makes sense. Please God don't let Grant take over full time. Chelsea will now not win anything this year. That's probably a good thing. I hope it's a Liverpool vs Arsenal fight down to the wire. With Chelsea third and anyone but ManU fourth (which'll tip Man U into bankruptcy. Probably.)

    Thing is, Mourinho made it look easy, but winning titles just isn't and the man was seriously talented. Abramovich won't appreciate what he has thrown away until Chelsea have gone without winning the title for a few more years.

    Bye Bye Jose. Thanks for everything.

    Wednesday, September 19, 2007


    Which Fantastic 4 Character Are You?

    You are part Mr. Fantastic. You're the typical dork, but this time it pays to be smart. With a beautiful woman chasing you, life seems great. Now you just need to stop being so noble and obsessed with your work.
    You are part The Silver Surfer. Chance has it that you're the villain with unbounded power and treachery. Although at most times you are definitely a force to be reckoned with, deep down lies a confused soul.
    Find Your Character @

    Which 24 Character Are You?

    You are Bill Buchanan. You are a law abiding citizen and in your world, rules are
    the driving force behind anything and everything. Your leadership charisma
    is something talked about by others, and instead of doing things
    differently you do different things. You have an uncanny knack of staying
    calm in tense situations and your tone is testimony to that. Keep the cool
    attitude and you will surely overcome the most perilous situations.
    Find Your Character @


    Compare and contrast this:

    with this:

    The second one was just before I was born. Such a vast change in cultural norms. Mindboggling in all sorts of ways. I might write a bit further about X-factor.
    (First HT Steven Harris; Second HT Steve Pavlina)

    Tuesday, September 18, 2007

    LUBH 10 - With you is my contention O priest

    This one's a bit of a rant. I basically blame the church for everything that's gone wrong.

    LUBH 10 - with you is my contention O priest

    Good morning and welcome. Nice to see you all again. The quotation which I am using is from the Book of Hosea Chapter 4 one of my favourite passages and I am going to read it out to you because it sets the context for what I am going to be talking about. It's called 'God accuses Israel'. And this is from the revised standard version rather than from the version that we have from our pew Bibles for reasons that will be clear. "Hear the word of the Lord O people of Israel for the Lord has an indictment against the inhabitants of the land. There is no faithfulness or loyalty and no knowledge of God in the land, swearing, lying and murder and stealing and adultery break out, bloodshed follows bloodshed, therefore the land mourns and all who live in it languish, together with the wild animals and the birds of the air, even the fish of the sea are perishing." So what I said before about ecological crises and so on, links into faithfulness, righteousness, that the wider environment is giving feedback on the moral state of the people.

    And it goes on "Let no-one contend and let none accuse - for with you is my contention O priest, you shall stumble by day, the prophet also shall stumble with you by night and I will destroy your mother," which is Israel or the church, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me and since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children, the more they increased, the more they sinned against me, they changed their glory into shame, they feed on the sin of my people, they are greedy for their iniquity and it shall be like people, like priest. I will punish them for their ways and repay them for their deeds."

    In other words all these things that are going wrong, it's the priest's fault. It's because the people who have custody of the knowledge of God and whose duty it is to teach that knowledge of God and to train people in God's ways - they have failed. So that's the theme for this morning. I hope you excuse me if it becomes a little bit of a rant. Hopefully my spleen will last long enough to keep us going to half past ten but I might run out, anyhow....

    "My people perish for lack of knowledge." I have been talking about idolatry a lot, that idolatry is when we get our priorities wrong. That we give too much importance to things which aren't that important and we don't give enough importance to that which is most important - which is the love of God and the love of neighbour. These two sides of the same coin. And the role of the religious authorities is precisely to teach people about what is important and what is not important, because this is what leads to life. This is the task of the religious teacher. To enable the life of the faithful. It is not simply about filling heads with words. It's about changing the shape of the lived out faith in order that the life itself is fruitful, and the church, small c, has manifestly failed.

    What I am going to do this morning is basically go through and hopefully criticise every church I can think of (!) with a marginal exception which I will come to at the end. But pretty much every church I think is failing in this regard, so I am going to go through some of the criticisms, but at the heart of it is a sense that theological renewal is required. "Come let us return to the Lord", is, if you like, the overriding theme.

    And so I want to go through, what I call the priestly idolatries, where the priests, where the religious teachers get it wrong. And I'm going to begin with the question of control and some of you will have heard me in my sermons talk about the difference between a castle and the sun. Because the castle is a walled fortress, it's built to protect something, and if the walls aren't there to protect it, then whatever it is inside, whether its treasure or children or whatever, then that is vulnerable and can be taken away by all those people who are coming to attack it.

    On the other hand, the sun is in itself its own protection. The idea that we might protect the sun by building a wall around it is absurd. Now what is Christian faith? Is it something that we have to protect or is the Son of God actually the rising sun and Christ is able to protect himself? God will not leave himself without witnesses. So underlying this is a sense of fear. That unless the church acts to protect and control things which might appear to criticise it, then the faith will crumble. I think its actually driven by a lack of faith, this sense of needing to control outcomes, particularly to control thinking. Not to assert the truth, I'm not saying that asserting the truth is wrong, not at all, what I'm saying is the idea that you have to clamp down on people who disagree with you and forbid them from speaking - that is what is driven by fear, and as I say it is rooted in a lack of faith.

    Now I am sure there are many more people more experienced with working with wood than I am but I can't get this image out of my head, and it may not be accurate, I'll look to any carpenters who might be here. If you place a plank of wood in a vice and just continue to increase the pressure on it will it splinter in the end? And will it start to just break up? I don't know where I've got this image from but if that's true, that's what I'm trying to get at. This sense of control and restricting what can be said, leads to splintering, and historically this has driven the reform movements, because there comes a point in conscience when you cannot accept the overriding control of an authority, when you are called by conscience to speak out for truth. And so you get this splintering process in the church, as an image does that make sense? That this desire to control is restricting and squeezing the church and causing it to splinter. And of course the classic image of this is the Spanish Inquisition. Torquemada and his pains. But it is still going on, you still get theologians in a Catholic church for example who are forbidden to speak, who are forbidden to speak as Catholic theologians, Hans Kung, Leonardo Boff, for example. One of my tutors when I was training was a former Catholic nun, who was effectively kicked out of her Order because she was arguing for women priests. You may have heard her on Radio Four, Lavinia Byrne. So it's still happening.

    So that's one, the first one, this desire to control. Let's move on. Now Luther was someone I think who had a specific call by God to pursue the truth. Now I don't have any arguments with Luther at all. I have lots of arguments with what the Catholic church did in response, because they reacted in terms of control and wanting to restrict dissent, rather than being concerned with what is the truth in a situation. So I am not arguing with Luther, but I think all sorts of things followed from Luther's example, and one of the good teachings which Rowan Williams gives is that prophecy has costs. If you are going to go against the church in order to pursue and argue for what you are compelled to believe is the truth, then you should expect to have painful consequences. It's not a pain free option.

    That certainly applied to Luther who for a long time was in fear of his life, but I think what has happened in the Protestant churches, and it can be seen most clearly in the States, but ego, individual choice has been confused with the call of conscience. And so this sense that prophecy, when you are compelled by God to argue for something, against what the wider church might accept, and this is a painful process - this has simply become another leisure option. "I'm not prepared to have someone disagree with me. I am going to club together with the like minded and we are going to have yet another church." This is what I am trying to criticise. Protestantism is reduced to self-indulgence. There is no sense of the claim of God on the life. It's simply "this is what I choose to believe and no-one's got any right to criticise me, because my choices are inviolate". And what you've got there is an idolatry of the ego. You know the individual choice is the end point in the process of discernment. I am the master of my world, it's also a form of worshipping the world and this phrase is actually from Taoism, the ten thousand things. It refers to the infinite number of different things in the world, but what you have got is more that ten thousand Protestant denominations in the United States alone. This is absurd. This is the ego run rampant. God has a claim upon you; the wider body of believers has a claim upon people.

    OK, next heresy: Erastinism, which is the technical name for subsuming the church beneath the State. This is a particularly Anglican problem, but it is also something that applies to the Orthodox in different ways. Christendom, it's the idea that the State and the church overlap or are identical. It particularly comes from a reformer in the sixteenth century who said, the church doesn't have the right to punish people, it should delegate the right to punish to the State. So the church abandons things like excommunication. That's the origin, but effectively what it means now is that the interests of the church are subordinate to the interests of the State. And there are sources in Scripture for this, 'be subject to the higher powers'. I sometimes feel when I'm taking for example the Civic Service I'm wondering what's going on? That this Sunday morning is given over to an institutional, a governmental process. Now if you actually look at the Civic Service text, it's actually very, very good, I just wonder how far what is being said is believed and being acted on. And what it is of course, you don't actually pick a fight about it because it would cause too much fuss, and causing a fuss is very un-English, so we don't do that.

    But the other side of it is someone like President Bush saying in his state of the Union address a few years ago, that the United States is the light of the world! This is heresy! This is absolute idolatry, and this is from someone who professes explicitly that his guiding light is Jesus Christ. You know that is the logical end point of confusing the State and the church. I don't think we are quite there when we are doing the Civic Service, but you know it's in that ball park.

    Next heresy: the academy. One of the major ones which definitely makes me angry. Theology is not an academic subject. It is not something which accepts the norms and the authorities which are accepted in the academy. And in one sense the origin of everything that has gone wrong with the church in the last thousand years is that theology got shifted from the cloister, from the Eucharistic community, into the academy. It got divorced from the practice of Christian life and worship and this happened in the Middle Ages, around 1100, the rise of Scholasticism, a change in the way that theology was understood, the way it changed the way that God was understood, and suddenly you have this very abstract understanding of the faith coming in, which has all sorts of barbarous consequences. I've gone into this in other sessions before, I am sure that I will go into it again, but atheism for example is the direct consequence of theology forgetting what it is there for. That the defence of the belief in God didn't rest in Scripture or revelation, but rested on academic, philosophical proofs. And this process went on over centuries and culminates in secularism and atheism. The idea that this is just an abstract sense of what you can believe. This is where things really started to go wrong. And of course what it has meant is that theology and the teaching of theology has been absorbed by modernism, by the philosophical agenda arising in the seventeenth century. And the sense that theology or faith is a thing about private preference, that theology is all well and good but keep it to yourself. You know, what I was saying about Qutb last week, I've got a lot of sympathy with some of the things he says.

    But theology is rotten. Fortunately this is starting to be understood, but things like how you train priests, how you train the clergy, you are not going to get faithful ministers if you train them in academic criticism of the Bible. This might sound like a really obvious thing, but the way in which clergy are trained in the Church of England, and also in many other denominations, is through the academic study of texts. I think there is only one theological college in England which does it properly and that's Mirfield. Has anyone heard of Mirfield? The community of the resurrection. And their emphasis - they don't have lots of teams of cleaners and cooking people, working for the students to make sure they can concentrate on the academic study of the text, they have the students looking after each other, they clean their own rooms, they actually live out a life of service. That is what is shaping them to be priests.

    The worship of science is one of the outflows from this. Science in particular has a particular method of gaining truth. And of course fundamentalism is wholly shaped and determined by this worship of science, that scientific forms of truth are the only forms of truth worth having, and if you look into the origins of fundamentalism, in America, the end of the nineteenth century the beginning of the twentieth, it's very explicit - they defend their views by saying this is the scientific approach to the Bible. Aaaagggh! It's worshipping science and we are not here to worship science.

    And of course it drives liberalism. The idea that he is a very nice man, a good human teacher, let's try and follow his teaching, but in practice we can ignore it. Fundamentalism and liberalism are Siamese twins, they are both entirely shaped by modernist philosophy, by the worship of a scientific method. You know, anathema, plague on both their houses.

    Some ways in which these priestly idolatries take form. Bread and circuses. This is one of the American churches, the nature of it. That you come to church to be entertained, to be stimulated, to be told if you follow these teachings then you'll be successful. I'm sure you're familiar with lots and lots of examples, but you know the idea that you send in your donation and that will mean that your broken leg will be healed or your problems with debt with be sorted out. You know tele-evangelism. But the idea that there's something that is different from the world at the heart of worship, so rather than the forms of worship simply replicating what you get elsewhere, there might be something distinct and different and odd, strange, that what you do in church is not meant to simply reflect and reinforce the habits of the world, but is meant to challenge them. The idea that you might need to stretch your attention span in worship, the idea that "Oh, if I'm not going to be stimulated, oh dear, church might be boring!" And of course what happens if you are bored, it means that you have got time to think and actually thinking and may be even listening, having a time of silence in worship. The thought that God might be wanting to say something directly to someone in the congregation, not mediated by someone pontificating up at the front, or ranting.

    The world is obsessed with sex, I think that is pretty unarguable and the churches have got caught up in it. Look at what Jesus teaches, how much time does Jesus spend ranting and raving about the sexual habits of the people he comes into contact with? Look at the story of the woman at the well, the Samaritan woman. Jesus is almost flirting with her, if you look at the context of it and the language he uses. But he's challenging her and she is still the first evangelist. He's not really all that worried about her sexual history, he's looking for an acknowledgement from her of who he is which sets her free, and she goes and spreads the good news. This [picture] is the consecration of Gene Robinson, Bishop of New Hampshire, which is almost certainly going to divide the Anglican communion, might even end up dividing the Church of England. It's because we have got caught up in the world's agenda. The world is obsessed with sex, Jesus wasn't. If you look at how much time he spends teaching about sexuality and associated matters, it's really not very much, he says nothing explicit about homosexuality, for example, and yet this has become the defining issue for the Christian church. And people outside the Christian church think, well what is it that Christians think is important, they're obsessed about what goes on in people's bedrooms.

    I think Rowan's wonderful, but I thought this was a good picture, the idea that we have to be nice to everyone. The idea that we can't actually stand up and assert the truths of our faith because that would give offence. Happy holidays, happy wintertime. Who was it, I think there was someone who was telling me about the Christmas cards where they found it impossible to get a Christmas card that actually had a Christian message inside it, they were going through some of the shops in Colchester. And the church is colluding with this.

    Right some rampant heresies (heresies are always rampant). (cartoon of man frightened by Christians) But how true is that? You know, if you look at what Jesus does it is sinners who flock to him because he doesn't take offence, he loves them and we as the body of Christ, "you must not be like that, you must change before you come in". No, you come in and that changes you. OK heresy, strictly called donatism, you can think of it as the 'pure church heresy'. You know this is one that was established around the time of Augustine, because this was one of his struggles when he was a Bishop. The idea that it is only the pure who can gather together, think of the parable of the wheat and the tares. When Jesus says, "No don't separate out the wheat from tares that will happen at the harvest." And yet you get church groups that say, "No, no, no we're going to do that, we are going to separate the wheat from the tares, we're the good people, and we don't want anything to do with those horrible sinners out there." It's a heresy. But that's what drives the sense that people who are vulnerable and wounded and confused, and may well be mired in sin in an obvious way, can't come in and be welcomed in the church which is for the sinners in less obvious ways. And the idea that the church doesn't have sinners crammed to the brim, that we are not sinners, this is a stupid, crazy idea! We are all sinners. We will remain sinners until the day we die, we do good things from grace. You know it's God's grace goes before us to allow us to do the good works he has set out for us to walk in.

    Next heresy. This is not in your sheet, because I realised that I had forgotten about it before printing it. Gnosticism. The idea that salvation comes from knowledge. That if you know the right things then you are saved, and you can think of this as being the password theory of salvation. If you say Abracadabra, if you say "Jesus Christ is Lord", then you shall be saved. No. It's a bit more than that. What Paul says for example in Romans, it is not simply that if you confess with your lips that Jesus Christ is Lord, but if you believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, then you shall be saved. And it's not belief in the sense of the academic, the knowledge thing, its that if you believe something in your heart then you will live differently. The heart is what motivates people, if your motivations are changed radically by accepting the truth of the Resurrection, then you will live differently. I'll come back to this. But Christianity is not Gnosticism, it's not just about things that go into your head, it's about the whole shape of a life, it's something embodied, that's the whole point of the incarnation, it's embodied, it's lived out.

    Next rampant heresy - docetism which is that Jesus only appeared to be human, he wasn't really one of us, he was really more like Superman. Superman is the alien from another planet who has got lots of wonderful powers and he will save us. And of course if you believe this you don't have to do anything, because Jesus is going to do it all. Because you know he is different to us, he wasn't actually human in the way that we're human and therefore we can't possibly do the things he did, despite the fact that he says we can. We will do even greater things than he did. The idea that Jesus is so distinct from us that there is no point trying to follow in his footsteps, because he is so wonderful and almighty and different, radically undermines the practice of Christian faith. It's the flip side of liberalism which is saying that Jesus is just human and there is nothing divine about him. And so you know we can packet him up with all the other great worthies like Gandhi and what have you, but actually we will just get on with what we want to do.

    Next heresy. I've ranted about the left behind theories before which is this American sequence of popular novels. Well they've made a video game and part of the video game, there's an extract from it, it's after the rapture when all the faithful have gone up, but you have been left behind, (gasp!) but you've discovered the truth because you've got access to this video left behind by your caring, pastor neighbour. So you know what the truth is and your task in the left behind video game is to go round killing all the heretics. This is called dispensationalism. There is lots of advice in St Paul saying don't follow the doctrines of men, this is a doctrine invented by someone called John Nelson Derby in 1830's, doesn't exist before then. And yet this is very, very prevalent amongst Protestant groups, not just in the States, although that's where it mainly is, it's very culturally influential, you know, the occupant of the White House believes this stuff.

    Jesus says, John 17, his prayer is not to take the faithful out of the world. What's the point in all the language about salt, and yeast and being embedded in the world to change the world, to do Christ's work in the world, if all that's gonna happen is we are taken out of the world to avoid any of the suffering that Jesus is engaged with? Heresies.

    Wrath. Remember the three strands that idolatry is turning away from the living God and giving too much importance to things which aren't that important, it's a distortion of the understanding and wrath is the consequence of this. Wrath is what happens when grace doesn't intervene. And just as from Hosea, it says, "I reject you from being a priest to me, I reject your children, the more they increased, I also will forget your children." But this is a process just within the Church of England about the decline, radical decline, by the end of the century there will be 80,000 members of the Church of England. I don't actually believe that will happen, but this is where we are headed, this is the consequence of centuries of neglect.

    And finance, this is specifically a Church of England one, you are familiar with the problems of finance and why individual clergy have more and more parishes to look after, etc, etc. But it is more than that, in that the assumptions and processes of what the church is there for and having to be shaped by the heresies and so forth that I have been describing, destroy the life of the Minister. This is a chap called Ted Haggard who was one of the most prominent evangelical leaders in the United States and one or two of you might have heard that he was involved in a scandal at the end of last year, a sexual scandal and of course he has been kicked out and excluded from his church community, you know "we can't have sinners here". But what is it that drove this clearly incredibly gifted and talented man to deny his dark side to such a degree that it ended up overwhelming him? It's the whole theology that sin is unacceptable and if you are a sinner, you can't actually share your sin with your fellow Christians and that you have got to keep up appearances, you have got to be pure. Which seems so contrary to the Gospel, it's amazing that this is actually understood by the external culture as an example of the Gospel. It is completely reversed.

    Are none exempt? Are all the churches awful? Virtually, but there is one, one example. You may recall at the end of last year, the autumn of last year the school shooting in America and the Amish, this is a picture from the funeral of one of the children. And they seem to actually be living out a Christian faith. And when the father of one of the murdered children said that they forgave the person who did the shooting, that was one of the clearest Christian witnesses we've seen for a very long time. And they could only have done that because they have been trained and formed in the faith. You know, the Anabaptist communities, people like the Mennonites, I have one or two theological disagreements with them, but they have much more to teach the wider church body than the wider church body has to teach them about actually living out the faith, about having lives which are formed in contra-distinction to the culture. But actually the faith matters, that the faith makes a difference, that you can't just be completely absorbed in the culture most of the time, without noticing that your claim that Jesus is the Lord of heaven and earth makes a difference to what you choose to do.

    Where do we go from here? Read Scripture. It might seem like a really silly, obvious thing to say. But I mean actually read it, read it like a book, don't just read little extracts with a commentary. Don't just read the passages selected for church on a Sunday morning, you know, read whole gobbets of it, read it like a novel. I think we have got so caught up with individual trees, that we have lost sight of the shape of the wood. And what God is actually doing which the story of the Bible tells, that God is acting to redeem his people whom he loves from all the forms of slavery which destroy their lives, and that Jesus is the pinnacle of that process, which is why Jesus saves. It is a very concrete, this worldly faith.

    If you look at what happens in the Exodus for example. There is a type, that is such a clear instance of what God's agenda is, there are people suffering in slavery, they are economically oppressed, they haven't got enough to eat and this offends God and he sends someone to redeem them. He sends Moses and says, "Let my people go." And the people are led through the wilderness into the Promised Land. It is very this worldly. It's not that Moses went along and said "Hey, change what you think, you know, carry on being slaves but that doesn't really matter, it is only what is going on in your head that matters." You know, "Confess Yahweh as the only God and then you will be alright." It's much more practical and dynamic and physical than that, it makes a difference. It wasn't simply acknowledge Yahweh as your God, think of the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are prefaced by "I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Eygpt, so trust me." Then "Have no other God's before me, then ... and all the list of the things which allows a communal life to flourish. The first five of which are religious commands. It's the second half which is fairly intuitively obvious, ones which we can understand and get a handle on and still ignore, by and large. Covet your neighbour's wealth and so on. But it's the first few which are the foundational ones. Only have the Lord your God as the one you worship and it's the Living God, it's not the God of the philosophers. It's the Living God who acts to stop slavery, in all its forms.

    But of course, the trouble with just reading Scripture, although I think it is absolutely essential is that you might end up bringing in worldly assumptions into how you read it willy nilly. And so it is worth spending quite a lot of time listening to the testimony of the early Church. Don't just assume that the Holy Spirit came down with Luther. The Holy Spirit came down at Pentecost and was active in the decisions of the church. You know it's not that Jesus went up on Ascension Day and then there was this gap of fourteen hundred years, the church was real, God was present, God was guiding the decisions and choices. For example the Creed. The Creed has non-Scriptural bits in it, it's called the Doctrine of the Trinity, but this is rather important, it gives a key for how to read Scripture which has been anointed by the Church community and hallowed over time and if these sorts of things are discarded, it's very short steps to the worldliness and the ego domination which I was criticising earlier. But no "my view is the crucial view". The idea that, it seems absurd to be arguing for this, but the idea that the first few hundred years of the church, they might actually have learnt something about who Jesus was that's worth hanging on to. And the practices that they adopted, like for example, the emphasis on the Eucharist. The idea that this was guided by the Spirit, that the Spirit was present at Pentecost and afterwards and they broke bread together on the first day of the week. These things are not accidents.

    Open your eyes to the world. Don't assume that God has stopped being active. Jesus says we will be led into all truth. There are some things that he couldn't tell us, God is still speaking, God is still alive, he might be saying something to you outside of Scripture, outside of the church fathers and so forth, by looking at the world which Jesus loves, the world which Jesus gave his life to save. But of course this is all very traditional Anglican theology. The inheritance that the Church of England has in terms of its theological bias if you like, is very healthy. A large part of the problem, the last hundred years or so, is that it has been forgotten. It is still being forgotten and denied. This whole process with the argument about gay clergy, and the agenda is being pushed in that argument are thoroughly denying traditional Anglicanism. Say more about that later on.

    Right. Living in the Kingdom which is the answer to wrath. To actually change the way that we live and what does the Lord require of you, to do justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly before your God. That's Micah. But how about this one? "Not everyone who calls me Lord will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but those who do ...." I'll stop the sentence there, I'm sure you can fill in the rest. Those who do, which isn't to argue for works righteousness, which is this obsession of the Western Church since the time of the reformation, grace comes first, grace is the fount of it. But the idea that someone's life can be transformed by grace but wholly on the inside and that the outer life has no discernible difference from the world, that seems more contrary to Scripture than anything else you can think of. The idea that you can go to Scripture and get this very late Western ideology that faith is just a matter of mental assent to something is crazy. I mean going through the Psalms, the Lord loves the righteous, they are the ones who will stand before him. Look at Revelation, at the end of time people will be judged according to their deeds.

    Faith is a doing. You know there is an inner transformation driven by faith. But we have confused this inner transformation of the heart with some sort of mental agreement, and you can understand what Christianity says and you can mentally agree to it, but you can agree to it in exactly the same way as you would agree with quantum physicists saying that there are such things as quarks. Yes I believe you. I accept there are such things as quarks, and then you just get on with your life. The Gospel is not that sort of information, the Gospel is something to transform the heart and if we lose sight of that that there are practical fruits which Christ is calling us to life by, then we have lost the most essential thing.

    Now, see if I can jump to the .... jump forward a bit, there is a quotation I want to share with you. Because this is I think the heart of it. The phrase "a community saturated with God". That's what the Church, any church is called to be. Something where this understanding, this awareness of what it means to live before God, that it is living differently, is at the heart of what the Church is called to be. That is what makes the Church the Body of Christ. That we live differently, that we embody something distinct from the values of the world. And this phrase, I've now forgotten, he said it was a Scottish Minister in the late nineteenth century just before a period of revival. The Gospel is incredibly contagious. And if the Gospel is allowed to transform a life, that life is the most effective witness that we have got that is possible. It's not words that will spread the Gospel, it's life. It's when people see Christians having something attractive, and thinking I would like some of that.

    Because people are aware of truth in their bones, people are wounded and suffering, if they see something which is healthy, they will move towards it. We can't stop the Gospel from spreading. Christ: "the gates of Hades will not prevail against the Church" and so on. But what we can do is prevent ourselves from being part of the process, and this is what the Church of England seems to have been committed to for a long time. What do we need to do? Concentrate on Christ. OK but that may seem like really obvious but you know, get to know him, read the Gospel. Read a whole Gospel at one sitting. You know it won't take you very long, read the Gospel of Mark, it will take you about an hour and a half, but you will get much more of a flavour of the sort of man he was and how he was divine by doing that than just by breaking up into one paragraph or two paragraphs at a time. The bits which the Church emphasises on a Sunday morning, get to know him. Get tuned in to his priorities because they will teach us what our priorities should be. And of course he came saying, this is a new covenant, it's not the old one which we seemed as a church to struggle so very, very hard not to go along with. We preferred the old covenant it was easier. Give us some rules and then we will shuffle along according to the rules, and we don't have to think about it very much, we don't have to do very much, it is much less hard work, we don't have to think for ourselves.

    That's not the gospel. Final quotation from Hosea again. "A people without understanding shall come to ruin." I came across the original Learning Church leaflet when this process was begun, getting on for three years ago now and I was quoting that passage and in a sense this is precisely my agenda in these Saturday mornings that we actually understand the faith a little bit more deeply, to avoid precisely this ruin which is coming down upon us. But the church needs to be renewed, and it needs to be transformed by the renewing of its mind, it has become mentally lost, not just the Church of England, but theologically, the understanding of what theology is has by and large been lost for centuries and this is at the heart of what needs to change.

    [Question about academic view of this]
    I think that within the academy a lot of this is really starting to be absorbed. I've talked about this chap called Alasdair MacIntyre and I think that the session after this one which I think is in three weeks, will be looking at the virtues, because I think it would be fair to say that theologians are discovering that they have so lost touch with living faith that it doesn't make any sense to what they are doing any more. And for other reasons, theology is being forced back into the church because the academy has become, if you like, its coming into its own. So theology is being replaced by religious studies and inter-cultural context and this sort of stuff. And real theology is coming back where it belongs, being controlled by the church. Theology properly understood is simply prayer, the one who prays is a theologian and it's not an elitist activity. Theology is about getting to know Jesus better, that's all theology is. There are a number of influential threads which are driving us forward. Rowan I think could be very sympathetic to 99% of what I've said today, he's certainly written to that effect. And I think the problems are by and large, western. They are not the Church around the world, and to some extent the Eastern church is exempt from the criticism, except for the one about being subordinated to the state, but their understanding of theology was never academic. But no, I think God is acting to change these things but it is not yet fully accepted - is that an answer?

    I think that on the second point I would be quite happy if we substituted all the language of salvation for the language of abundant life because I think that one of the problems is that whereas Jesus was very concerned about something very day to day, immediate and now, eternal life if you like is something that we share in while we are alive, it's a form of life. When Zacchaeus, when he says, "Salvation has come to this house," it's because Zacchaeus has changed the way he lives. It is not something about what is going to happen to him when he dies, so I think, I take the point that the language of salvation is a very, if you like evangelical emphasis and it can be translated into something which is also wholly in tune with Jesus' agenda but I think if we started talking about abundant life or eternal life as something in terms of how we exist day to day, then I'm wholly in favour of that. But I don't agree with the first one I'm afraid, the thing about heresy - I mean heresy originally means choice, I think that if you don't assert that truth is ultimately something independent of our own decisions, you have lost the most essential thing about the faith.

    Now having said that I think you should never really talk about heresy without also the caveat "I could be wrong". And I think it's having that caveat of "I could be wrong" which prevents the thing about control, which is where I started, because I think you can have a teaching authority and you can have a sense that the church has understood this to be the truth for two thousand years and you can therefore have people choosing to believe something different and that's heresy. I think that is the most important step back from - because you are a heretic we are going to exclude you, we are going to hurt you, verbally, physically, whatever, and I think asserting the truth but acknowledging that my grasp of the truth is imperfect, but asserting that the truth is something to be defended and it isn't simply a matter of individual choice I think is essential. I think if truth becomes a matter of choice then we should give up, I would give up, there are much easier ways to live. It's the sense that the truth has a claim on us and we only have partial grasps on it but we can journey deeper into the truth and that we can be transformed by the truth as we live deeper within it.

    The whole point about it as I understand it is that it is not an opinion, is to say that it is an opinion is to take the academic approach. I think to be a Christian is to be committed to a path. It is actually to say there are no other paths which help you up the mountain to a certain degree, but I can't see any way in which you can avoid being detached from something which is life transforming and therefore you don't transform your life, if you are not committed to something being true. Because you can't live by it unless you are committed to it, unless you actually say this is the way I am going to walk, even though I could be wrong, but I am going to walk like this and you don't commit to something in that way, that very concrete way unless you believe it to be true and true independently of your choice. It is not like choosing wallpaper or something, it is much, much too important for that and I just think psychologically you can't say that any other choice is any other just as good.


    It was the first day back at work, and I just knew I had forgotten something...


    A little bit more enthusiasm coming on.

    Monday, September 17, 2007

    Sunday, September 16, 2007


    There are some mornings that I wake up and all I want to do is scream. For about an hour. Then I calm down.

    Saturday, September 15, 2007

    I am but an egg

    You Are Incredibly Logical

    Move over Spock - you're the new master of logic
    You think rationally, clearly, and quickly.
    A seasoned problem solver, your mind is like a computer!

    (HT Sally)

    Not good for sailing...

    ... but quite good for pictures.


    Wrestling with resentment.

    Friday, September 14, 2007

    Is Christ Divided? session 11

    Is Christ Divided?
    Notes for the house groups on 1 Corinthians.

    Week eleven, beginning Sunday 16 September: 1 Corinthians 9.24 - 10.13

    Main themes: the discipline that becomes a Christian

    Questions to prompt discussion

    1.What is the 'crown that will last for ever' - and how do we train ourselves to achieve it? Can we 'achieve' it? And if we can't - what place does training, ie discipleship, have in the Christian life?
    2.What is the relationship of the Christian community to the Hebrews in the time of Moses?
    3.Why is grumbling so bad as to be included with idolatry, sexual immorality and putting the Lord to the test?
    4.Is it true that God 'will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear'? What has gone wrong in a situation where a person is shattered and broken by events?

    Supplementary thoughts:
    In the Corinthian context the treatment of athletes bore some similarities with that given today - the best athletes were raised up as figures to emulate and admire. Corinth itself hosted the biennial 'Isthmian Games' which drew competitors from throughout the Roman Empire. Clearly Paul is drawing upon this well-understood image to describe something essential to the Christian life. NB Paul does not have a negative understanding of the body as such, see 6.20.

    Moses was overwhelmingly the most important Old Testament figure for the Hebrew community - hence Paul's provocative description of their being 'baptised into Moses'. Note the way in which Paul is retelling the story of the Exodus to bring out parallels with both baptism and the Lord's Supper (the underlying theme of these chapters). Once more Paul is trying to get the Corinthian church to step back from an arrogant assurance that they have 'achieved' salvation and have nothing left to learn, and can therefore indulge in 'freedom' (ie licence): 'if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!' The Corinthian church should expect to have the same consequences happen to them as happened to the Hebrews, if they continue to indulge in pagan revelry etc.

    Notes on verses
    v27 - 'I beat my body', literally 'I treat it roughly' - no sense of 'punishment'.
    v4 - a Jewish tradition referred to the rock from which water sprang as accompanying the Israelites in the wilderness (see Exodus 17.6, Numbers 20.11)
    v8 - see Numbers 25 (and compare numbers!)
    v10 - see Numbers 14 & 16 in particular, but there are many others.

    Thursday, September 13, 2007


    Back to work tomorrow. As in properly back to work - wearing the collar and such like. (Which is more of an indicator of mental attitude than anything else). So I'm feeling just a little glum - it's been quite a long time since I've had 3 weeks off and I've got rather used to it! I do enjoy the work, though. Mostly. The positives vastly outweigh the negatives. It is me.

    Some random thoughts:
    - the vocation is to God not the church
    - I have to keep faith with what I have received
    - speak the positive don't respond to the negative
    - I'm pushing on an open door
    - God wants more from me

    - fall in love with the process

    Learning Church Dates Autumn 2007

    Your own personal Jesus: An outsider's perspective on evangelicalism

    20 October - the nature of an outsider's perspective
    27 October - the origin and nature of evangelicalism
    3 November - shibboleth #1 - 'Scripture says...'
    10 November - shibboleth #2 - penal substitution
    17 November - shibboleth #3 - 'unless you are born again...'
    24 November - Creationism, Christianism and Crisis
    1 December - our post-evangelical future.

    Feyerabend on Galileo

    This post is a summary of Paul Feyerabend’s article ‘The Tyranny of Truth’, as published in the collection ‘Farewell to Reason’, Verso, 1999; as part of a discussion taking place over at Stephen Law’s blog. Click ‘full post’ for text.

    Feyerabend begins by talking about the best way to discuss the conflict between Galileo and the Church. He says that it would be preferable to explore all the various details and debates, individuals and institutions involved in the conflict. He says that this requires digestion of material far too rich and diverse to be treated in a short paper and that he shall therefore "rise to a higher level of abstraction" by talking about traditions.

    His first interest is with the role of the expert in society, and he describes two different traditions outlining the extent of the expert' s role. "One regards an expert as the final authority on the use and interpretation of expert views and expert procedures, the other subjects the pronouncements of experts to a higher court which may consist either of super experts -- this was Plato's view -- or of all citizens -- this seems to have been recommended by Protagoras. I suggest that the opposition between Galileo and the church was analogous to the opposition between what I have called the first and the second view (or tradition). Galileo was an expert in a special domain comprising mathematics and astronomy. In the classification of the time he was a mathematician and a philosopher. Galileo asserted that astronomical matters should be left to astronomers entirely. Only ‘those few who deserved to be separated from the herd’ could be expected to find the correct sense of Bible passages dealing with astronomical matters, as he wrote in his letter to Castelli of December the 14th, 1613.... in addition Galileo demanded that the views of astronomers be made part of public knowledge in exactly the form in which they had arisen in astronomy. Galileo did not simply ask for the freedom to publish his results, he wanted to impose them on others. In this respect he was as pushy and totalitarian as many modern prophets of science -- and as uninformed. He simply took it for granted that the special and very restricted methods of astronomers (and all those physicists who followed their lead) were the correct way of getting access to Truth and Reality. He was a perfect representative of what I have called the first view or tradition."

    Feyerabend contrasts Galileo's attitude with that of the church. According to Feyerabend the church sought to ground the understanding of astronomy -- something pursued diligently by a number of its members -- in a wider understanding of truth and reality. He writes "the models which the astronomers produced to account, say, for the paths of the planets could not be related to reality without further ado. They arose from special and limited purposes and all one could say was that they served these purposes, viz, prediction." He goes on to summarise the church's attitude in the following way: "To use modern terms: astronomers are entirely safe when saying that a model has predictive advantages over another model, but they get into trouble when asserting that it is therefore a faithful image of reality. Or, more generally: the fact that a model works does not by itself show that reality is structured like the model. This sensible idea is an elementary ingredient of scientific practice..."

    Feyerabend goes on to discuss the ways in which this approach is used with great profit in scientific circles, discussing quantum theory, Newton's theory of gravitation and Schrödinger's wave mechanics. In each case the theory is validated by an appeal to a wider domain of understanding. Feyerabend writes "in his search for a way out of the difficulties of early 20th-century science, Einstein relied on thermodynamics. In all these cases models are compared with basic science and their realistic implications are judged accordingly. What was the wider domain that determined reality for the church? According to Bellarmino, the wider domain contained two ingredients, one scientific -- philosophy and theology; one religious and to that extent normative --' our holy Faith'." Feyerabend goes on to point out that for Bellarmino philosophy and theology were both sciences in the modern sense of the word: "theology dealt with the same subject matter (as science) but viewing it as a creation, not as a self-sufficient system. It was and still is a science, and a very rigorous science at that: textbooks in theology contain long methodological chapters, textbooks in physics do not."

    Feyerabend goes on to discuss the ‘second ingredient’ and remarks that "the second ingredient means that scientific results, wrongly interpreted, may injure human beings.... [it] further implies that questions of fact and reality depend on questions of value. For positivists this is an unfamiliar and even repulsive idea, but only because he is not aware of his own normative prejudices... Thus the church was not only on the right track when measuring reality by human concerns but it was considerably more rational than some modern scientists and philosophers who draw a sharp distinction between fact and values and then take it to for granted that the only way of arriving at facts and, therefore, reality, is to accept the values of science."

    It is this second ingredient that Feyerabend seems to admire the most. He draws out a strong parallel between the way in which the church acted to shape and control intellectual research, and the way in which such research is shaped and controlled today, most notably through questions of funding and peer review. He writes "Galileo tried to combine philosophy, astronomy, mathematics and a variety of subjects which are best characterised as engineering into a single new point of view which also entailed a new attitude towards Holy Scripture. He was told to stick to mathematics. A modern physicist or chemist trying to reform nutrition or medicine faces similar restrictions. A modern scientist who publishes his results in the newspaper or who gives public interviews before he has submitted to the scrutiny of the editorial board of a professional journal or of groups with comparable authority has committed a mortal sin which makes him an outcast for quite some time. Admittedly control is not as tight as it was at the time of Galileo and not as universal, but this is the result of a more easygoing attitude towards certain crimes (thieves, for example, are no longer hanged, or mutilated) and not a change of heart as to the nature of the crimes themselves. The administrative restrictions on a modern scientist are certainly comparable to those in force at Galileo's time. But while those of the older restrictions which issued from the church were available in the form of explicit rules, such as the rules of the Tridentine Council, modern restrictions are often implied, not spelled out in detail. There is much insinuating and hinting, but there is no explicit code one could consult and, perhaps, criticise and improve. Again the procedure of the church was more straightforward, more honest and certainly more rational."

    Most crucially, Feyerabend argues, this second ingredient of the church's attitude was open to negotiation. However, as it constituted one of the fundamental building blocks of the community's perspective as a whole, it was not going to be altered willy-nilly. Feyerabend writes that this idea "is today accepted by all high school principals and even by some university presidents -- don't introduce a new basis for education until you are sure it is as least as good as the old basis. It is also a reasonable idea. It advises us to make basic education independent of fashions and temporary aberrations... it would be very unwise to rebuild it from top to bottom whenever an adventurous new point of view appears on the horizon."

    Feyerabend goes on to discuss how strong the evidence was for Galileo's point of view, and therefore how reasonable it was for the church to oppose him. He discusses the way in which science itself develops through argument in the face of contrary evidence and writes "almost all philosophers of science writing today would have agreed with Bellarmino that Copernicus's case was very weak indeed." He adds "besides, Galileo's views on the relativity of motions were incoherent. Occasionally he asserted the relativity of all motion, on other occasions he accepted impetus which assumes a fixed reference system. Galileo's basic physics was even worse." Feyerabend's conclusion is that Bellarmino's judgement was an entirely acceptable point of view.

    Feyerabend goes on to conclude his paper by returning to the question of expertise and traditions, revisiting his earlier contrast between one tradition arguing that "society must adapt to knowledge in the shape presented by the scientists" and a second tradition arguing that "scientific knowledge is too specialised and connected with too narrow a vision of the world to be taken over by society without further ado. It must be examined, it must be judged from a wider point of view that includes human concerns and values flowing therefrom, and its claims to reality must be modified so that they agree with these values." Feyerabend interprets the Galileo affair principally as a conflict between those two traditions and writes of the church that its perspective "had and still has a tremendous advantage over the principles of an abstract rationalism. It is also true that the noble sentiments inherent in a knowledge of this kind did not always prevail and that some church directives were simply an exercise in power. But the better representatives of the church thought differently and were worthy predecessors of modern attempts to temper the totalitarian and dehumanising tendencies of modern scientific objectivism by elements directly taken from human life..."

    In his final remarks Feyerabend comments upon the notion that science is inherently self-correcting, which he ridicules. Feyerabend insists upon the value of all wider human life and the need for scientific knowledge to be incorporated within that life. He writes: "the enthusiasm for criticism shown by the philosophers and scientists whose views I am discussing now, though shared by many intellectuals, is not the only basis for a rich and reward in life and it is very doubtful if it can even be a basis. Human beings need surroundings that are fairly stable and give meaning to their existence. The restless criticism that allegedly characterises the lives of scientists can be part of a fulfilling life, it cannot be its basis. (It certainly cannot be a basis of love, or a friendship). Hence, scientists may contribute to culture, but they cannot provide its foundation -- and, being constrained and blinded by their expert prejudices, they certainly cannot be allowed to decide, without control from other citizens, what foundation the citizens should accept. The churches have many reasons to support such a point of view and to use it for a criticism of particular scientific results as well as of the role of science in our culture. They should overcome their caution (or is it fear?) and revive the balanced and graceful wisdom of Roberto Bellarmino, just as the scientists constantly gained strength from the opinions of Democritus, Plato, Aristotle and their own pushy patron saint, Galileo."