Friday, November 30, 2007

They will know we are Christians...

Let me begin by telling a little story.

Back in the dark days of 1995 (for more detail see here) I started to attend a church on Sunday in a serious fashion - for the first time. I had attended a few times mid-week, when I could be safely unknown and anonymous, but attending on Sunday had that combination of desire and fear that all wallflowers are familiar with.

Anyhow, first Sunday there - attended the service - wander through to the teas'n'coffees - take up traditional wallflower position. And one man came across to say hello. Very warm, very open, very affirming. I've often thought that if that one man hadn't been so good to me I wouldn't have continued to attend the church, I wouldn't have continued to explore my vocation in such a positive and enthusiastic way. He was a real man of God for me and a great help. Of course I got to know him a bit better while I was at the church, though I haven't spoken to him for rather a long time. He's a busy man, you see (the church is on display in the lower picture there).

Now - why am I telling you all this? Because some of the nutters are now having a real go at him. Which tells me all I need to know.


A dog in front of the camera.
And a dog's dinner behind.
At least, that's what I feel like right now :-P

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Philip Pullman is an idiot

Not because he's an atheist, but because he completely misreads Tolkien: "No-one is in any doubt about what's good or bad; everyone knows where the good is, and what to do about the bad. Enormous as it is, TLOTR is consequently trivial."

Lots of really interesting stuff in the interview, which is on one of my favourite blogsites.

And for the record, I really enjoyed 'His Dark Materials', I'd be quite happy for my children to read them in due course, and I have a quotation from Pullman stuck on the side of my computer box so that I can ponder it every day. I just think he's got rather a significant blind spot.

+John Chelmsford on Bishops

"The Bishop, within the bounds of what is properly lawful, sets the conditions for ordination and for the pastoral oversight of clergy and all who hold his licence. No one, under their oath of obligation, can turn round and say that they are not willing to accept the rule the Bishop makes and expect, nevertheless, to proceed to ordination."

(via Chelmsford Anglican Mainstream)

For background on why +John is saying this, go here. In essence, an ordinand refused to share communion with Bishop John, and so Bishop John is not prepared for him to be ordained in his Diocese. Which seems fair enough to me.


Good conditions for taking photos tonight. I was pleased with this one. I've put some more onto Flickr.


This one does have Ollie in the middle...

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

This man is becoming one of my heroes

Richard Dannatt on leadership.

The grace of God (or Gaia???)

Fascinating article here about how a) Antarctica has cooled over the last thirty years, and b) why. It puts a different perspective on some of the alarmist coverage of collapsing glaciers in the Antarctic peninsula. Interesting and strangely comforting at the same time.


I walked down to the ocean
After waking from a nightmare
No moon, no pale reflection
Black Mirror, Black Mirror

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A handful of thoughts on 1 Corinthians

I've just posted the last few sets of notes on 1 Corinthians for the use of our House Groups. I've found the process of writing the notes extremely demanding (about 2 hours work a week) and satisfying at the same time. I've loved the opportunity to work through the text in a thorough fashion (I'd forgotten quite how much I enjoy studying Scripture!!!), and as preparation for leading the discussion in my own house group it's been great - but I have hated having to write up the notes. It has felt like extracting teeth, mainly because I haven't had a clear sense of the 'audience' - and, as I find out more about the audience I find them to be far too diverse for one approach to work. I think only 2 or 3 out of the six or so groups use them to any great extent; at least one ignores them completely! But that's fine, because they are only intended to be prompts and resources - the key thing is the discussion in the group itself.

I have been using two main commentaries, with occasional dipping into others: the Oxford Bible Commentary (which is my main resource generally) and Tom Wright's 'For Everyone' commentary. It's been quite illuminating to compare the two as I've gone on, the secular/believing contrast is sometimes strongly evident.

The best thing about it has been getting to know this text in much greater depth, and gaining an awareness of the shape of the text as a whole, how the various parts fit together coherently in Paul's argument. That has been very satisfying.

I'm almost certainly never going to do this again for the House Groups. The other leaders have access to other resources (and more experience in using them) so I'm very happy to pass on the leadership function to someone else. But I'm almost certain to carry on doing something like this, simply because it has been so spiritually edifying for me. I plan - after Christmas - to resume a weekly rhythm of working through a particular text (probably Exodus), and I'll post my notes onto the blog. As it will be purely for self-interest I should feel a bit more liberated with what to write, so hopefully it will flow much more easily (and I'll be able to range a bit more widely to pursue my own interests and spiritual concerns (aka hangups)). And I've just read this post, which encourages me to think that as I grow into it, it might turn into something of wider use.

Is Christ Divided? session 19

Is Christ Divided?
Notes for the house groups on 1 Corinthians.
Week nineteen, beginning Sunday 25 November: 1 Corinthians 15.35 - end of 16

Main theme: the resurrection body; closing comments

Questions to prompt discussion

1.What does the prospect of being raised bodily mean to you? Are there any implications for how you treat your body now?
2.In what ways can we live today without being afraid of death?
3.How should rich Christians support poor ones?
4.If you were writing a letter like Paul's, who would you thank?

Supplementary thoughts:
After a highly sensible 'don't ask such silly questions' attitude at the beginning, Paul proceeds to give us a metaphor or image for understanding the resurrection. What we are dealing with is something mysterious, for which we have only pointers. The important points are a) that we will be raised as Christ was raised, and b) that we will be raised bodily. People might like to consider the following terms, and how far they overlap or are incompatible: resurrection; life after death; eternal life; living in the Kingdom; being in heaven; reincarnation. NB Bear in mind that Paul uses 'flesh' to describe two things: the physical body (flesh and blood) and worldly desires (the way of the flesh).

Paul's collection for the saints (ie other churches) is referred to in Galatians 2.10 and is key to his missionary journeys, and a principal way of binding the different communities (Jew and Gentile) together. See 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 for an idea of the response he got! (but see also Rom 15.25-7 - Corinth was the capital of Achaia).

Notes on verses
v 15.38 the emphasis is upon God's power of resurrection
v 42 and onwards - physical body is literally a body driven by a soul (psyche) as opposed to the spiritual body driven by a (Holy?) Spirit (pneuma). Compare with 'born again' = literally 'born from above'.
v 51 it's possible that Paul expected the general resurrection in his own lifetime (compare 7.29-31; 1 Thess 4.15-17)
v 16.2 The reference to 'the first day of the week' is the earliest in Christian literature
v10-11 it's possible that Timothy was not an imposing figure, hence the need to ask for help - which may be deliberate on Paul's part, given the themes of the letter
v17 these are the members of the Corinthian church who came to Paul with the letter from the Corinthians to which this letter is a reply
v20 the holy kiss is mentioned a number of times in the New Testament - a sign of the communal aspect of Christian belief (compare with the 20th century difficulties associated with re-establishing exchanging the peace).

Is Christ Divided? session 18

Is Christ Divided?
Notes for the house groups on 1 Corinthians.
Week eighteen, beginning Sunday 18 November: 1 Corinthians 15.1-34

Main theme: the resurrection

Questions to prompt discussion

1.Is it necessary to believe in the resurrection in order to be a Christian? What might a 'yes' answer imply? (NB Sam thinks the answer is yes....)
2.What is it that we are able to hope for?

Supplementary thoughts:
At the beginning of this extended discussion Paul points out that he is passing on what he himself has learned, in a line going back to Peter. In other words Paul has been caught up in a tradition of teaching that is passed on from person to person.

The understanding of resurrection that Paul is deploying here was something that began to be developed in Jewish thought in the two or three centuries before Christ, and given especial strength through some of the events associated with the Maccabean revolt. It was not a generally accepted notion in other cultures, and Paul's language cannot be glossed into 'life after death'. It was also disputed by some elements in Jewish culture (eg Sadducees, see Luke 20.27-39). So it doesn't mean that Jesus was 'raised to heaven' or 'vindicated by God' - both of which may be true but it's not what Paul is describing! It's because Jesus was raised from the dead that Paul understands him to be Lord. The notions cannot be separated, but it's the claim of a specific historical event that drives Paul's language. Given the Corinthian culture at the time, the idea of resurrection made no sense to them - hence a downplaying of the idea in their community, and hence Paul's insistence that without an acceptance of the resurrection their faith is 'in vain'.

Note the link between sin and death (vv 16-18), and the way in which the resurrection overcomes both (deals with both). Without the resurrection the 'world' is still all that there is, and we need to come to some sort of accommodation with the world in order to live. With the resurrection there is a place to stand apart from the world, which allows us to live in distinction from the world (ie be leaven in the bread). Those who are in Christ (v29) become the means by which the disordered world is put back into good order, they share in Christ's work.

Notes on verses
vv 3-7 are the earliest known Christian creed
v32 may be a metaphorical reference to arguments that Paul has had in Ephesus (cf Acts 19)

Is Christ Divided? session 17

Is Christ Divided?
Notes for the house groups on 1 Corinthians.
Week seventeen, beginning Sunday 11 November: 1 Corinthians 14

Main theme: spiritual gifts, and their place in church life

Questions to prompt discussion

1.Have you ever experienced yourself, or been with someone who has experienced, 'speaking in tongues'? How did it make you feel? Inspired? Disturbed?
2.What do you think prophecy is? Is there a difference between the dictionary definition and a biblical understanding?
3.What do you think Paul's over-riding concern is in this passage? How might it apply to our church here in Mersea?
4.What do you make of the description of worship in verse 26? How does it resemble our Sunday mornings? or our house groups? Is Paul being prescriptive here?
5.What is your area of spiritual giftedness?

Supplementary thoughts:
This is a long passage, but with one exception (see below on vv 33b-35) it hangs together as a discussion of the relative place of prophecy and speaking in tongues in the life of the church. Speaking in tongues was not unique to the Christian church in Corinth, it was a part of the 'religious scene' in Greece; there were other 'ecstatic cults' at the time, and the sense is that some in the Corinthian church had become 'puffed up' by the experience of speaking in tongues, and were using these experiences to establish a spiritual hierarchy - which triggers much passion from Paul! Note that Paul never denigrates speaking in tongues as such (see especially v 18) he simply insists that this gift must be used for the 'edification of the church' and not as a badge of individual superiority (see especially v 28). There is a link back to the beginning of chapter 12 and the discussion of spiritual gifts there, as this sequence brings the argument of the last three chapters to a close. There are many sorts of spiritual gifts, including some not mentioned by Paul (there is no suggestion that Paul is giving an exhaustive list).

Verses 13 to 19 contain a consistent emphasis upon the life of the mind in building up the community of the church, and this is not simply about intellectual matters but a more general sense of understanding what is going on, so that the 'Amen' can actually mean an informed assent. Historically this has often led to conflict within church communities, eg over worshipping in the vernacular (ie English rather than Latin). There are issues in our church at the moment that this verse applies to quite specifically! The important thing is to worship as a whole human being, with mind and body, heart and soul.

Notes on verses
vv 33b-35 are highly controversial, and there is a suggestion that they are not originally from Paul (a number of manuscripts place them at the end of this chapter, which may indicate that they were added in by a scribe or one of Paul's followers). Compare with 11.5 which implicitly allows women to speak; the last chapter of Romans which describes a number of women with (public) roles in the church; Phil 4.2,3. Consider also the appeal here in general terms to 'the law' (v34) which is a distinctly odd argument for Paul to make! Compare it with the arguments in Romans and Galatians about reliance on the law.


Every spark of friendship and love will die without a home.

Monday, November 26, 2007


An intense day at the end of an intense week, and now I am exhausted.
Happy though.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

What a way to go

This is a "stub".
Excellent film - at least four out of five - and the best film I've seen on Peak Oil and related issues so far (not least because it covers much of the same sort of material as my LUBH sequence). I'm going to write up a much more detailed review in due course, probably after I've watched it again.

NB I've put the picture of Daniel Quinn up because I was really surprised to see a crucifix in the background. Not sure what to make of that.

The Sentinel

Good build up but slightly disappointing denouement. And I kept expecting Mr Sutherland to switch into Jack Bauer mode and start torturing Mr Zeta Jones. No such luck....


My Super Ex-Girlfriend

This really suited my mood: very silly, and not at all serious.


Some idle fun:

Your results:
You are Hulk; You are a wanderer with amazing strength.

Iron Man
Green Lantern
The Flash
Wonder Woman

Click here to take the Superhero Personality Test

I'm pretty happy with that (see this old post for why). I've also been getting more into the modern Iron Man as well - tho' I haven't reviewed any of the graphic novels yet - and I'm really looking forward to the film next year. I'm surprised I didn't end up as Batman though...


The view through my car window this afternoon after being held up for a couple of hours on the 'wrong' side of the Strood.

It must be said, I'm pretty fed up at the moment - almost entirely due to 2 things, tiredness and the onset of yet another cough/cold horrid thing. Yeeuch.

Ah well. Music is pretty good for some of these moods.

Learning Church on Evangelicalism - list

This will be the 'central post' for resources on my Learning Church sequence on evangelicalism. For now, just the mp3 recordings, but there will be notes put up here as well.

1. The nature of an outsider's perspective (text part one, "My Testimony")(text part two, "The Authority of Scripture")
2. The origin and nature of evangelicalism
3. Shibboleth #1: The Bible says
4. Shibboleth #2: Penal Substitution
5. Shibboleth #3: The meaning of 'born again'
6. Creationism and crisis
7. Some thoughts on our future

Creationism and crisis

Gabcast! Learning Church (Mersea) - Creationism and global warming

Critique of creationist theology and its impact on the struggle against global warming, with particular reference to the Southern Baptist conference resolution of June 2007.


Not fit for purpose.

Did Jesus know he would be resurrected?

There's a discussion going on over at Stephen Law's about the uniqueness of Christ's sacrifice - Stephen is arguing, I think plausibly, that other people's sacrifices can be at least comparable to that which Jesus makes. In the comments, however, I've raised a different issue, which probably deserves its own home. I'm sceptical of the idea that Jesus knew - in a strong sense of that word - that he would be resurrected. Reasons under the fold.

Like a good conservative evangelical Stephen quotes several proof texts to show that Jesus did in fact know he would be resurrected, including: Mark 14.25, Luke 23:42, Matt 20:19 - and there are a number of others, some even more explicit.

If the discussion is simply about what 'the plain sense of Scripture' testifies to, then that's the end of the discussion, and the fundamentalist and the atheist can continue to make common cause in how to read the Bible. However, I have three grounds for thinking this insufficient:

a) the impact of modern critical scholarship, especially source and redaction criticism. Are these words accurately transcribed or is there some influence (any influence!) from the post-Easter church? In other words, I have no doubt that Jesus predicted his conflict with the authorities in Jerusalem, and his death, but can we, on historical grounds alone, be certain he predicted the resurrection?
b) The emphasis on the word 'know'. Even if he did predict his resurrection - or something like it - did he know it in an absolutely certain manner, or is he speaking from faith? In other words, even if we take the words as historically accurate - or that there is a core of something historically accurate here - how are we to read them? What's the tone of voice?
c) It seems to me that if Jesus did have complete and utter confidence in his resurrection (ie the strong sense of the word 'know') it undermines some crucial elements of the story. There is no dramatic tension; the story becomes a puppet show; there is no longer anything of real human interest at stake. This is not a problem for some readings (PSA!!) of the story, because there all that matters is that Jesus gets slaughtered. But it's a problem for me.

As I understand him, Jesus was following the will of the Father, moment to moment. I think he could foresee (in a non-miraculous sense) that he would be killed, and I think he probably hoped - and trusted - that he would be vindicated in some way. But I can't see any way to reconcile a strong sense of knowing he would be resurrected with a) Gethsemane, and b) the cry of dereliction from the cross. Both of those make complete human sense to me - and, paradoxically, that's why they are most revealing of the true nature of divinity - but all of this is lost if Jesus had certain knowledge of the resurrection.

I'd be interested to know what other people think.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

er... not everyone :)

Your Inner European is Irish!

Sprited and boisterous!

You drink everyone under the table.


These are actually from yesterday afternoon, but I thought they were better than the ones I took this morning!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Giving thanks for the United States

Every so often I will come out with a critical comment about US culture - I'll be making several tomorrow morning at the Learning Church - but I should put on record that:
a) I really admire the United States in many different ways;
b) I think very seriously about emigrating there - but only after they've woken up to Peak Oil;
c) I think the US is going to go through hell for the next fifteen years or so, but it will come out of it on the other side much stronger and more resilient. Whereas some other cultures - like the Middle East - will just get flattened;
d) Todd Beamer exemplifies something for me - what I admire about the culture of the States, and what I despise about my own civilisation.

For more on this, have a read of Neil's post which I strongly agreed with, and this one.

This is why western civilisation will collapse (2)

Disabled veterans jeered at swimming pool.

Words fail me

Ann Widdecombe: "Tutu's idea of what Christ is about is too simple by half."


Dance me to the end of love.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

LUBH 13 - summary

Last gathering together of the 'Let us be human' argument, with an update of my 'pledges' at the end.

LUBH - summary

Welcome to the very last session of the Let Us Be Human sequence, prophecy, peak oil and the path for the faithful. Now today a summary which is why there is no crib sheet with notes so also I am going to suffer, I didn't realise I was going to suffer because normally I have my notes right in front of me to spark things off. But anyway what I am going to do is run through what we have covered over the last twelve sessions and come up with some specific pointers for a way forward.

Now to begin with the prophecy bit, as I am sure you all know as I have said it so often the prophets throughout the Old Testament and culminating in Christ centre on just a handful of things, the call to right worship of the living God - that we shouldn't indulge in idolatry, that we shouldn't prostitute ourselves to false gods, and as the other side of that coin, there is the call to justice - to social justice to love thy neighbour, hence Jesus's summing up that we love God, with all our hearts, etc. and we love our neighbours as ourselves. This sums up the prophetic teaching throughout scripture. And I started off with Jeremiah who was very unhappy to be a prophet because God said to him "Go and tell the people of Judah that Jerusalem is going to be destroyed and you are going to see such suffering in the streets of Jerusalem." He said, "Oh please I don't want to have to say such an unhappy message, they will all hate me", and they did, they threw him in jail, they tried to kill him etc., but he was compelled to give this prophetic judgement when the Babylonian army would sweep into Jerusalem and destroy the temple and massacre the Royal family and take off all the leading lights of the community off into exile in Babylon itself. So the prophetic message is - "This is the right way to live, in touch with the living God, justice between you and your neighbours, and if you turn away from this for long enough then there is a mighty judgement coming." And I think we are in a situation which is analogous to that Jeremiah faced, there is a mighty judgement coming on us.

Now I started off talking about peak oil, now peak oil is that geological phenomenon which describes when the flow of oil from any particular well hits its maximum, so it's the point of maximum flow. The analogy I used is running a bath from your hot water tank, to begin with you can control the flow of water by turning the tap fully on or fully off or somewhere in between, and you open it up to fully on and you have got plenty of water coming through. But of course over time your hot water tank draws down and at the end there is just a trickle and no matter what you do with the tap you can't change it from being a trickle. And the same thing happens with an oil well, with an individual oil well, with oil wells across a region and globally and the phenomenon is called peak oil, it is talking about when the global flow of oil is at it's maximum and chances are we actually hit that two years ago, in May of 2005. Now it's possible we might tick up just a little bit more from where we are, but the evidence is accumulating and becoming stronger and stronger, May 2005 was when there was most oil available in the world, and oil is a wonderful, miraculous substance as a source of energy, as a source of raw materials, and we have built up our economies upon it. Not simply in terms of the transport system where it is most obvious where we have an entire transport system built around the internal combustion engine and it relies on liquid fuel, without that liquid fuel it will collapse.

Now the point about peak oil is that, so far for the last hundred and fifty years as the industrial technology and revolution and economy has really picked up lots of steam, if you had enough money you could get the energy. That will no longer be the case. There will be a limit and a consistently declining amount of energy available. That means that energy, instead of being cheap and abundant is going to be scarce and expensive. And all the things which we do which depend upon cheap energy being available will cease. For example, private transport and use of cars. Now it's not going to cease overnight, but within twenty years, that sort of time frame, unless we have a wonderful, technological discovery which solves all our problems. But we could have done with discovering that twenty years ago. In terms of the time frame for shifting all our infra-structure away from oil and onto bio-fuels or whatever technology has wanted to dream up, it takes a very long time to change things like engines and petrol stations and so forth, and the most exhaustive analysis that has been done of this is in the United States, it's called the Hirsch Report, commissioned by the American government, says that if you plan for peak oil twenty years before hand there is no problem. If you start planning for it ten years before the peak, then it will take you ten years to recover. If you don't do anything until the peak's arrived, it will take you twenty years to recover. That's what we are looking at: a great dislocation.

So this is the trigger, and this will factor in to all sorts of things, essentially, our economy, our civilisation is built upon this easy energy being cheaply available and that is going to be taken away. I then went on to talk about the background to this, which is the problem of exponential growth. That within a finite area exponential growth when there is a sudden new abundant resource available, oil in our case, allows for a local population explosion, and that population explosion tends to crash. If you have for example a petri dish with bacteria, the bacteria will grow and accumulate and use up all the available energy sources, you know glucose in the medium, in the petri dish, and if there are different blocks of bacteria growing at the same time they will end up having little lines between them where antibiotics are produced, little bits of biological warfare in the petri dish. But then once the available energy resources have been used up the population crashes and dies.

Now this is the very dark side of the predicament that we face, that we as the human species have rapidly and vastly expanded and you can see the dates, 1800 we are at 1 billion, 1930 at 2 billion, 1960 at 3 billion, 1975 at 4 billion, 1987 at 5 billion, 1999 at 6 billion - you can see it's just shooting up. And that's a wonderful thing in the sense that there's enough food available to feed vastly more people, but that food is dependent upon cheap energy being available. Take that energy away and the food won't be there. And the systems, the ecologies around the globe are straining under the weight of so many people and we are entering into a time of great stress and hardship.

I then went on to talk about idolatry, this central command from the prophets that you must worship none but the living God. And an easy way to think about what that means is to say get your priorities in order, don't give too much importance to the things which aren't really that important, and do give importance to the things which are important. So if your culture emphasises and values things like producing money, or becoming a celebrity, these are not as important as the compassion and solidarity which God calls us to show to one another, and think of the story in Luke's gospel, Dives and Lazarus where Jesus describes the rich man who has lots of comfort in this life and Lazarus at his gate begs and then they die and Lazarus goes to heaven and Dives never actually does anything actively against Lazarus, he just ignores him, you don't have to be actively hurting the poor, you just have to ignore what is going on, you have to ignore the extent of poverty in, (especially) in Africa.

And there is something about our Western civilisation, especially in north western Europe and United States, which has given science too prominent a place in determining what is of value and what is of meaning. And you can think of science as being the ability to look into the very small and the very big. Think of telescopes and microscopes, they are arrangements of lenses. Imagine that you take one eye out, and you put it in front of the other eye and with these two lenses, one in front of the other, you can look into the very, very small and you can look at the very, very distant, but what you lose is a sense of perspective. You get no sense of proportion. And this is what science has done to our civilisation, we can discover all sorts of interesting facts but we have lost any sense of what is meaningful and what is ultimately of most importance, and that I think is our root idolatry that we need to disentangle our culture from.

We then talked about the wrath of God, that there is a pagan understanding of wrath and I have the image of King Kong, when you have the pretty blonde about to get gobbled up by the monster and the whole point is you have got to sacrifice in order to appease the monster. And contrasting with that is the ancient Jewish understanding used in the first temple, whereby it is God's initiative to come to us and redeem us from our sins. So our God is not an angry God to be appeased in the way that King Kong for example needs to be appeased. But there is this notion throughout the Old Testament and the New of the wrath of God, and what I'm saying is that the wrath of God is when we are allowed to experience the consequences of our own decisions. In other words it is when grace doesn't apply. Grace is when we are allowed to escape from the consequences of our own decisions, we don't get what we deserve. And the wrath of God is when we do get what we deserve. I think the wrath of God is rather similar to the notion of karma.

Now this is an image of New Orleans the day after the hurricane Katrina passed through. Now it is tenuous to say that any one individual hurricane is caused by global warming, but an increase in the rate and strengthen of hurricanes that has been seen, can be attributed to there being warmer sea temperatures as a result of global warming. And that is just one example, there are many, many others. But one example of where our actions have certain consequences.

I then talked about living in the Kingdom, talked about the apocalypse, apocalyptic imagination, living in the light of the end times. Because Christianity is structured around a longing for and an expectation of an end to the world. But this has become very distorted over time and has become something which has in a sense longed for by - I was going to say political reactionaries - it's not just political reactionaries, I talked about the Left Behind series, multi-million selling in the United States, and they were all about the rapture when those who are good get taken away from the world and then those who are left have this almighty struggle where they, you know there's even a video game where they were encouraged to kill the unbelievers, and you get points for how many you shoot and so forth. This is rather a long way from a genuinely Christian vision of the future.

The Christian vision of the future is that God will accomplish his purposes and the Kingdom is coming and the point of the church is to live in the light of the Kingdom, to live according to those Kingdom values and thereby be a sign to the rest of the world of what the world is going to be. We are to show the way to that end to the rest of the world, we are to embody it, we are to live it out, that's what living in the Kingdom is. And of course, the Eucharist is crucial to that - the sense of sharing and equality and feasting in the presence of Christ this is where we are tending to.

And so when we look at things going wrong in our present society, we are to evaluate them by the Kingdom and say what can we do in this particular situation which is more like living in the Kingdom and then we are of course to live it out. That's an image from Nigeria where they call oil "The devil's tears". And so one of the first things that we need to do and I'll come back and say a bit more about this at the end, one of the first and most important things that we need to do is to turn away from the use of oil, and start to structure our societies and economies on the basis of non-fossil fuel use. That doesn't mean no energy, it doesn't mean no electricity, it does mean much more local work, much more local economy, especially local production of food. When that cheap and easy energy gets taken away we are not going to get food flown here from Kenya or New Zealand.

And we do have a vision held out to us of what the Promised Land is and what's interesting I think in the Old Testament is that it's a very material vision held out - the land flowing with milk and honey, material wealth is not to be scorned in and of itself. God doesn't want us to starve, he's not punitive in that sense, we can't serve both God and mammon. We have to make a choice and if you seek first the Kingdom of God, then all these things will be given to you as well. But if we start to worship mammon then all sorts of bad things flow in consequence.

So I started to talk about the way in which we can look at the Bible in scripture as a resource for understanding our present ecological crisis, and I quoted Hosea 4, which describes the injustice and immorality being prevalent in the land of Israel, and it says - "Therefore the land mourns and the birds fly away, and the fish in the sea vanish and the cities are laid waste." That the state of the world reflects the state of our society, if we are unjust then the world will reflect that back to us. We cannot disentangle poverty from looking after the environment, from the wider ecological understandings, they are closely tied in, and I think there are all sorts of resources in scripture for understanding ourselves as creatures within creation who have an obligation to be faithful and good stewards, that we are to tend the garden, not to destroy it for short term gain, which is what we have been doing for hundreds of years.

Coming back to the question of social justice I talked a little bit about poverty being widespread in the world, but especially in sub-Saharan Africa, and the collision that is going to take place between the rapidly growing populations, especially somewhere like the Middle East and Saudi Arabia and the lack of availability of resources for example, the lack of availability of water, that they are mining the ground water laid down over millions of years. When global warming gets into its stride, it's already begun and those cities around the world that are dependant on glacier, melt water for their drinking water, like Lima in Peru, gets it's drinking water from glaciers, when those glaciers go, and they are going at a rapid pace, there is going to be tremendous human suffering and tremendous human migration. This is what's coming and this is the context where we need to share the wealth that we have.

I talked about foreign policy, another area of idolatry within our civilisation. About Sayyid Qutb, one of the founding fathers, philosophers of militant Islamism against whom we are engaged in the west in this long war. And you can't defeat a philosophy with bombs - it needs hearts and minds and that means we must look to our own spiritual resources in order to meet the challenge. Because the challenge that Qutb makes to western society is not a trivial one, it is not a foolish or superficial one, it has profound accuracy in it, and it is also evil, it is also profoundly wrong in many ways, but his criticism is not stupid and it can't be overcome by force of arms. If anything the opposite, to rely solely on the force of arms, plays into the narrative which he tells, whereby the western world is full of barbarians who have no sense of human value which is much of what I have just been saying. These are one of the ways in which the crisis which our society has begun going into are going to manifest themselves.

So in this context what are we to do? I think we are first and foremost to be faithful. Faithful is the one who calls, I think that's from Hebrews, not to give up hope, not to give in to despair, but to keep the faith with the one who has gone before us and who shows us what it means to be human and how to live, that we are to walk in the path he trod. Unfortunately, as that Hosea passage goes on to say, God declares, after describing the immorality and the judgement being enacted upon the land, "With you is my contention O Priest." The root of all the problems which the community faces lies in the apostasy of the clergy. It's because, and I can tell you a long, eight or nine hundred year old story about how this happens, whereby those who are in charge of the church lose sight of the faith, they lose sight of the gospel, they turn away from the truth and theology becomes this academic subject with no practical relevance to how people live their life, and slowly, the fish rots from the head down. Slowly Christians get into the process of slaughtering each other, and there is a natural and necessary revulsion in the society against that slaughter. And you get the enlightenment acting against the church saying "These people are evil they will force you to do horrible things." And those charges are not unjust. There have been some faithful witnesses, faithful witnessing communities, over the time, but broadly speaking western Christianity has been profoundly compromised, and we can see that even now, when the Anglican community get so caught up in it's own internal business, when there is so much widespread suffering.
It brings to mind when Christ criticises the Pharisees, they are so concerned with tithing their dill and cumin that they reject the much weightier matters of the law and justice, so we are called to be faithful.

This quotation from one of my favourite theologians, Stanley Hauerwas, "We would like a church that again asserts that God not nations rules the world, that the boundaries of God's kingdom transcend those of Caesar and that the main political task of the church is the formation of people who see clearly the cost of discipleship and are willing to pay the price". That the church community is called to be distinct. We are called to be salt in the world, we are called to be the yeast in the bread, we are called to be the light shining on a hill, and when we simply become absorbed into the world and indistinguishable from the world then we are fit only to be trodden underfoot and discarded. We are called to show to the world what a different sort of community can be like and thereby draw people to it.

At the heart of it is keeping the Eucharist, breaking the bread and the wine which all the ecumenical summits agree is the source and the summit of Christian life, even the tutors at Spurgeon's college, a chap called John Colwell, says, "The main purpose, the main worship of the church, should be meeting together on a Sunday morning to break bread and drink wine together." And I went into what that meant in terms of the new covenant, that this is how we are put right with God and put right with the world and this is where we are taught and shaped as Christians, this is the heartbeat of the faith. It is not the entry way into the faith which is baptism, which has it's own crucial importance, but it is for those who have come in this is where the abundance of life flows. We should maintain discipline, it is not a free for all. I talked about Alasdair MacIntyre and his image of those who are taught how to lay bricks and there is a tradition of bricklaying that it has been learnt and studied how to lay bricks and for someone who wants to learn to lay bricks, the best thing to do is to come in and learn at, be an apprentice to the master. That's how it's done. The skills, the practices are passed on from person to person. And of course, if someone comes in and says "I want to learn how to lay bricks but I'm not going to listen to you because my opinion is just as important." They won't learn.

And the idea that the training for example of clergy should be driven as much by personal choice and options or in fact the training and Christian formation of all the people who come into a church, the idea that personal choice is at the heart of how this proceeds is a nonsense. Imagine, just to bring this home, that someone was training to be a doctor, and in their first year at medical school they look at the syllabus and they say "I'm not sure I fancy doing anatomy this year, I think I would rather spend some time on, I don't know, psychology, therapy." You imagine that the school says, "Well, if you are interested in doing that, fine, but that won't make you a doctor. To be a doctor you have to do, this, this, this and this, that is what being a doctor is." And the way in which that sense of understanding what it is to be a Christian has been lost. It's just one index, it's just one sign of how far we have fallen away from what the faith means. There are certain things which are essential to actual living out the Christian life, the disciplines, which I'll come on to. But that's a picture by the way of the Amish, those of you who were here for my extensive rant against various churches might remember that I exempted the Amish from my criticisms, not because I agree with everything they agree with, that they believe, but because they are actively living out their faith. And they are a community who are shining as a light as we have seen after those awful murders of the school children.

So, I want to finish with what I call some pledges which are really trying to bring some of the preamble, that context into sharp focus, and sharp relief. This is a picture of Taize, tremendously successful ecumenical and extremely appealing to young people, Christian community in Southern France. Had a big influence on me, and at the heart of it, it is a highly disciplined community. It's very difficult, it is almost impossible to be a Christian on your own, and it is very difficult for a Christian community to be a Christian community without maintaining some forms of discipline, some forms of structure, actually working together in a common purpose, in a common aim. It's a bit like rowing, like the boat race, you have got eight beefy men and they are honed to work together in unison and together they can accomplish much more than any of them could do on their own, it's the working together that makes a difference. And this is what I think the church, all churches are called to be. To be a community of people rowing in the same direction.

Question: What sort of community would we have to be in order to be the sort of people who live by our convictions? Stanley Hauerwas again.

1. Pray. It's the foundation for everything else.

Everything I have being saying today might be wrong, everything I have been saying for the last few months could be wrong and the only way you will be able to discern, you and I, what is the truth is through prayer. Prayer is the foundation for everything else, and if we are to discern the will of God for each of us as individuals, for us as a community, then prayer is where we will begin.

2. Worship. Especially that breaking bread and wine.

It's irreplaceable. It's not the only form of worship. It's not the only legitimate, and wonderful, and positive form of worship either. But it is essential, the breaking of bread and sharing of wine in the context of telling the story of who Jesus was and is and is yet to come. It is essential.

3. Abandon the idol of economic growth.

To use the jargon of economists, "Economic growth in our society now has negative marginal utility." What that means is that as we grow a little bit bigger in terms of the economy, in terms of money and paper, the actual quality of life has become less, and there have been rather exhaustive, statistical analyses of this showing that actually our quality of life peaked in the late 60's, early '70's. The quality of life for the people living in this country has got worse ever since, even those who are materially better off. You know there are various indices, there's even one accepted by The Economist, you know the newspaper The Economist. They are quite robust, but it has become an idol in our society. Think of how often the politicians mouth the platitudes of needing to preserve growth, that you will be richer. And they do that because they are reflecting the desires and preferences of the voting population. I am not meaning to be, all the time, entirely cynical about the political class, lots of them are very noble in intent, but it is very difficult for them to stand up and say something against the idols of the age, if it means career suicide. If it means they just won't be listened to, and to start to change that, to start to change the direction of the wind within which the politicians have to sail, means that communities need to change what they value. And we need to start looking more towards the quality of life, what actually allows for human flourishing, rather than simply repeating this economic cycle. That we buy more widgets so that the widget-makers can earn a living, so that they can buy more widgets, and keep the system ticking over.

And this will come to a real crunch, probably within a decade, fifteen years, when our society faces a choice - and the choice will be this, at that point there will be nowhere near enough oil flowing to keep our cars on the road, which will have widespread economic implications, and the choice which we will face is do we set up plants to convert coal into petrol, which can be done. But if we do that we can abandon any hope whatsoever of preventing global warming, which will be incomprehensibly destructive, if we switch to coal, because what that will do is simply give us one more generation of economic growth, another twenty, twenty five years. And then the coal will be exhausted so we will be back to square one, but in the meantime we will have destroyed the planet we live in, and that choice will be faced, within I'd say within fifteen years. Coal is the enemy of humanity. We need to switch away from, and make sure we don't go down that road.

4. Switch to a green electricity supplier. Building on this and there
could be dozens of little points. Here is just a handful.

In other words one that will never use coal. It costs a little bit more, a few percent more. Of course beneath all this is conserve, actually use less, for all your electricity supplies, switch to a green electricity supplier.

5. Repudiate the aeroplane so far as is humanly possible.

For those who have got relatives in New Zealand or whatever, it is not straightforward to simply say "We are not going to use the aeroplane anymore", because there are actually other priorities in life. Preserving links between families being one of the most important. But simply jetting off to Southern Spain for a fortnight in the sun, when this has a wholly disproportionate impact on global warming, because it's not just about the oil that is used in flying the plane, it's to do with the impact of flying the plane at that level in the atmosphere has, and the actual disruption it causes there.

6. Never set foot in a major supermarket.

The shops themselves are astonishingly wasteful of energy and if it is essential for you to get that something from Tesco and they are not going to have it in the shop up the road, which I believe is opening in July, they do home deliveries and home deliveries are a good thing, so it is not so much stop using Tescos, although I could argue for that, it is as much about not actually using the physical buildings themselves, because they are so astonishingly wasteful of energy. So that you have got chilled fish on open display while it is also warm enough for you to walk around in a shirt. To keep that system going requires a very complicated heating and chilling system which uses an awful lot of energy. If the Tesco buildings and supermarkets for example were to turn into warehouses so that the food was still available but was distributed, that would be a huge step forward in reducing our carbon emissions in this country, but of course it threatens the idol of choice, because we want to walk around the supermarket and say, "Oh, I fancy this, I fancy that." A more disciplined approach might be needed.

7. Stop using the car. Or if you are using the car share it.

There's a wonderful scheme - I'm hoping that we can start setting this up within the churches here for sharing car journeys. If someone is going to Colchester, we can get a little database running, saying, "Oh I can hitch a lift, share petrol costs." We are going to have to do it anyway but this is a very easy and straightforward way of the church being this pioneer community showing where we have got to move to.

8. And of course, learn to grow your own vegetables.

I actually managed to grow a potato - success! I have broken the ice, stunning. So I am just beginning and I know there are many, many people here with great expertise in growing vegetables, but frankly we are going to need to have much more local sources of food, because the agricultural system itself is so dependent on fossil fuels, at every stage of the process, that it is one of the sectors that is going to be hit most hard by peak oil as it kicks in.

9. Share. Share to begin with simply with our own community.

I am very hopeful and optimistic that the computer systems and the internet will survive all this, because they can be incredibly useful. If for example there were people who had this a wonderful nice new Flymo which they used once a week to mow their lawn, why can't that be shared amongst half a dozen families, so it takes what two hours depending on how big your lawn is to mow your lawn and that bit of equipment can be shared and used amongst the community, you know, reducing the amount of expenditure that needs to be done and actually bringing the community together. Another example we could set up a little our own DVD library, and again it can be done purely on the computer, no one has to shift things round, so that you look along who's got what sort of film in the church community, and you say, "Ooh I want to watch that" and so you actually have some human contact with someone in your church community, and say, "Do you mind if I borrow your DVD of this film?" I mean simple, simple things, but it starts, and all these things can start to accumulate and the saving that are then generated can be distributed and given to various good causes. Last one.

10. Choose the human option.

This is a band called "Show of Hands", Peter took me to go and see the other day, but what I was going for was this picture, although they probably do have a bit of electronic reproduction, you don't have to have electronic reproduction to have good entertainment. If you are going to watch a film, like we were doing in here before, gather lots of people together to watch the film together, make it a much more human and interactive and social process. Or get people together to sing songs together, human entertainment rather than electronically reproduced entertainment, is what I mean by that. Because however much gloom I might sometimes come out with I do believe that on the other side of the crisis life will be incredibly good and positive, it will be much closer to the Promised Land, because our idolatries will have be forcibly removed from our way of life. But it will only be great and wonderful for those who get there, and frankly I think a large number of people won't, because of the consequences of our past decisions as a society.

But there is a Promised Land, we will, there will be community, a human community, an advanced technological human community on the other side of these crises. But in order to, think of the crises as a great mountain, in order to get over the mountain we need to discard some of our heavy baggage and we need to lash ourselves together with rope and we need to work at it together in a disciplined way in order to get over the hump, to get past the mountain to get to the other side. And these I think are just indications of the ways in which we need to move, to leave behind some of the things which destroy human life, they destroy our own lives, they spiritually impoverish us, they destroy the physical lives of people in the planet. We need to leave these things behind in order to embrace a more fully human way of life. It will be difficult to get there, we will also have to go through the desert, but on the other side of the desert, here is a different image, there is the Promised Land.

I will be putting together all the material from these talks, ideally it will end up as a book, in the meantime I can supply the handouts but on the church web site all the talks are up to be listened to again and the power point presentations are available and the notes, so there will be a resource there. We are thinking about putting them on a CD for anyone who wants to use them again, but as I say hopefully they will come together in the form of a book when I have had a chance to polish it and remove all the things I come out and say where actually I'm not sure I really fully meant that!! There will hopefully be available a book bringing all this material together in the summer. Even if I have to self publish it, which is very easy now on the internet.

LUBH 12 - the nature of discipleship

Mainly about MacIntyre and Hauerwas.

LUBH 12 - the nature of discipleship

We are going to be exploring today the nature of discipleship, what it means to be disciples. Those of you who came to my talk on Stanley Hauerwas will recognise at least half of it and if you can't remember who Stanley Hauerwas is, he's the one who looks just like Derek. One of my favourite theologians. The nature of discipleship, this is Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I am sure many of you will recognise him, he wrote an excellent book called the "Cost of Discipleship", which is a sort of background influence to this, but I think he is an example of someone who actually lived differently as a result of his faith, he walked into some very dark places and he preserved the witness, so he is a good example of what I want to talk about. Now on the sheets there are several quotations, they are all from this chap called Stanley Hauerwas, an American theologian, and I am currently working through one of his books with the Ministry Team called "Resident Aliens", most of the quotations are from that book, so that is quite readable if any of you want to pick up a copy.

This is a verse, "What sort of community would we have to be in order to be the sort of people who live by our convictions?" and that's really the theme of what I wanted to describe today. Not so much the specific questions of what we do, that's for the next and the last session, we will be going through quite specifically as a sort of conclusion to the whole sequence, the shape of life and the shape of choices that we will need to take in our present context. The real bit of theological background, what sort of thing is it? What sort of community would a church need to be to be the sort of people who live by our convictions?

I want to begin by talking about this chap called Alasdair MacIntyre who wrote a very influential book, came out I think in 1980, called "After Virtue", and he'd tell the story that our understandings of morality and ethics has been profoundly fractured and we still have lots of language - the language of the virtues - but we no longer have a sense of the story within which they make sense. And he tells this parable to explain his perspective, and I am sure many of you will have heard me tell this parable before, but this one is worth retelling. He says imagine a time, one hundred years from now, when there has been a great crisis, perhaps a nuclear war or something like that, and for various reasons the scientific establishment have been taken to be responsible, and so there is this tremendous reaction against the scientific community and all the places of scientific learning are destroyed. The universities are destroyed, the laboratories are destroyed, the companies employing all the scientists are shattered and there is a real repudiation of science within the community.

And then after a generation or two generations the anger against the scientific community passes and you get a community of people who start to think "Well what was all this science about?" and they start to gather together the fragments of scientific learning, and they have some bits from Newton, and they have some bits from Einstein, and they have some bits from Darwin and so on. And they get all these different pieces and they don't know how they fit together and so you have a development of some people who pursue the oxygen theory - which says we can understand our atmosphere by thinking about oxygen, and another group of people who pursue the Phlogiston theory - we think we can understand the atmosphere by talking about Phlogiston. (Phlogiston is the theory which was displaced by the theory of oxygen.) In other words, what you have got here is an evolution from people talking, scientists talking about the theory of Phlogiston to the people talking about oxygen, but once that story, that evolution has been taken away, there is no way of assessing which is the correct way to talk about things.

And what you have are lots of different communities, some people are devotees of oxygen, some people are devotees of Phlogiston, some people are devotees of Newton and absolute space and time, some people are devotees of Einstein and it's all relative, etc, you understand the picture. That because the story, the narrative has gone, there is no longer any way of discerning what's different and what's best between the different alternatives.

Well MacIntyre's argument is that exactly the same thing has happened to our understanding of moral theory - the virtues. And he essentially blames the enlightenment and we won't go hugely into it, but he essentially blames enlightenment which has lost its sense of what it means to be human. We who live in enlightenment era civilisations, we no longer have a sense of what humans are growing towards and so the language, which we did have, which we have inherited from the previous few thousand years of Western civilisation, all of which assumed some aim of what it was to be a flourishing human being, that language no longer makes sense because we no longer have an idea of what it means to be human.

And what MacIntyre does is develop a theory which has become extremely influential which resets all our language of the virtues and so forth within a Christian context. And he was an atheist, he was a Marxist, I think he has still got lots of Marxist sympathies, but he has been received back into the Roman Catholic church, he is now one of the leading Roman Catholic theologians and the conclusion of his book "After Virtue", is that we are looking for a new St Benedict. And it is documented that this is a big influence on Cardinal Ratzinger and his choice of name as a new Pope. So this is a very, very influential book. It's one I have lots and lots of sympathy with.
Anyhow, that's the bit of background context. He talks about practices. He says that we don't know what the language does, what this language of virtue - so courage, honour, integrity, honesty - these are virtue descriptions. We don't know what these words do without this sense of what human beings are moving towards and also without some sense of what they mean in practice. OK? That we are actually taught what these words mean in the context of certain ways of living, certain ways of behaving.

And so he says what the church in particular needs to do is to focus on these ways of life and he gives an example of bricklaying. And the way in which the practice of bricklaying is taught and is very much there is a master bricklayer and there is an apprentice and for the apprentice to learn how to lay bricks the apprentice has to do what the master says and listen and pay attention. Imagine that the apprentice comes in and says, "I know how to lay bricks already", the actual - the practice of learning how to lay bricks doesn't get up off the ground. There is an already existing tradition of laying bricks within which the master bricklayer has been trained and brought up and it involves all the language of laying bricks, I'm not a bricklayer but if there are people here who have done this, there must be ways of describing how you lay on the cement with your trowel, or how you set the bricks straight and all this sort of thing. There are ways of laying bricks which work, which are good, which make it a good practice, which make for a good strong wall that you have made with your bricks. And if the apprentice comes in a says "I already know how to do this, why don't we do it a bit like this, this looks good", then it is ignoring the whole tradition and the shaping of the language and the practice which has gone before, which has been proved and tested.

And he says this is really what the church is about. The church is like this community of master bricklayers, the church is there to shape those people coming into it so that they become qualified and able to carry on the discipline of laying the bricks, or being disciples, which is what we are going to get on to. That's all background really.

Now this is an image you can see that the civilisation has been collapsing and we are living two hundred years really after the civilisation, what has shaped the values of the West has started to rot and we are living amidst the fragments. Any "Lord of the Rings" fans? I know there are some, did you watch the film? One of the ways in which the film was quite faithful to the book and it worked, because you often saw these monuments within the film that were never explained, they were just evidence of a prior culture that was clearly quite glorious and had gone, and all you had were the ruins. And this was Tolkien's way of, if you like, portraying twentieth century, western civilisation, that it is living in the midst of the ruins. And it doesn't quite realise all the glories that have gone before. And really our civilisation is in the same position. We are living in the midst of the ruins. And he is representing one of the monks, because of course, a monastery is a very good example is where disciples are formed, because you have a structure within which people come and within which people shape their lives around certain practices. Prayer and labour and hospitality and so forth, which shape them as disciples. I think, if you like, this is an image of where the church is called to go, to found something monastic.

Now the question of Christian character is a way in which MacIntyre talks about it. When someone has learnt the trade and the skill of laying bricks then they have changed, they have acquired traits of character. And in the same way, within the church once someone has been trained in the habits of Christian life their character has changed, they become the sort of people who don't take offence at certain things, who are concerned about other things more, who display the fruits of the spirit. The love the joy, the gentleness, the peace and so on. That these are the virtues of Christian character and so the purpose of the church is to form people in precisely this Christian character. We are to set our minds on the things that are above. We are to be formed not by worldly values and worldly patterns, but by the light that is coming in from outside as it were, the sunlight.

Remember very early on I used the image where I had taken the dog for a walk and I saw these people in very early dawn light, before the sun had actually risen and they were digging for bait I think. So the light is coming, is coming up, we can see what it is to be a Christian, we can see certain things are now possible, whereas most people are still living in darkness; it is to live according to the light which is coming in, and that is what churches are called to do, to train people to live according to this light which is dawning.

So the key, the core point for the church is precisely this formation of character, what we can call the making of disciples. Because we are not actually in the business of converting people. We are not in the business of saving souls. Does that seem surprising? Jesus says, "Go and make disciples." He doesn't say, "Go and work out who is saved and who isn't" He says, "Go and make disciples." The salvation of someone's soul is something which is utterly unknowable to us. We cannot know who is saved and who isn't. What we can do and what we are commanded to do is make disciples. That is the business of the church. The salvation of someone's soul is something belonging to God. We are not in that business, we are in a very related and closely attached business, but it is different. Make sense?

It's the making of disciples that we are to be concerned with. Another quotation from Hauerwas, "We would like a church that again asserts that God is in charge of the world, that actually acts as if that's true, that the boundaries of God's kingdom are more important that Caesar's, and that the task of the church is the formation of people who see clearly what discipleship is. This is the task of the church: to form disciples, to train people to live differently.

Now Hauerwas has this wonderful description, he says, "A church is precisely a community of character. This is where we learn what it means to be a Christian." If you can't learn how to love your enemies when you are in church, where will you ever be able to do that. Because here is the place where you come and you are gathered in the name of someone who is much bigger than our own concerns and squabbles. It is not that all Christians already enjoy each other's company and get along perfectly, but here what it is to be a Christian is to sign up to something and say this is bigger than my own preferences, this is bigger than my own desires and choices and consequently, here I will learn to love someone with whom I have violent disagreements, because I believe the one who says to me, "Love each other as I have loved you." And here I want to learn how to do it. It's not like I come in already qualified to do it, here I want to learn what it is to love one another in that way, to not judge, to live without judging someone else, to live without being shocked by someone else. To say "I am a sinner, we are all sinners, let's all gather together and hope for mercy." Which is really what we do on a Sunday morning.

One of the aspects of this is that the practice, the actual living out of Christian faith, comes before the proclamation. And I will say a bit more about this as we go on, but the practice, the actual living out of the faith is foundational. Because that is what gives the words their weight. And so the practice is something which changes us on the inside and radiates out into our wider lives. And it is about being serious about our faith, taking the faith seriously, not paying lip service to it. Jesus saying, quoting, "This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." I will say a bit more about the importance of the heart a little bit later on. But it's not about what we say, it's about what we do, it's the choices, it's how we live.

And importantly, it involves obedience. Coming back to this question of the bricklayer. If the apprentice doesn't obey the master bricklayer, he is unable to learn. If you have this community, doesn't have to be bricklaying, it can be anything really, a community which embodies a certain way of living, certain practices, certain ways of doing things, and it says, "These are the things that we function by, these are the things which determine us, this is what we do," and someone comes in and says, "Actually I don't want to do any of those things, because I am not prepared to submit, then really that person coming in hasn't joined the group at all. That doesn't mean to say that they completely lose their ability to act on conscience or anything like that, but it is to say that within the practice of the community, without obedience there is no learning. Without some level of obedience there is no discipleship. And there is lots of stuff in the New Testament to support that.

Another quotation from Hauerwas, "That Christianity is unintelligible without witnesses." Without the saints, the saints are the people who are exemplary in putting the faith into practice. The saints are the ones who show us what a Christian life looks like. Hence Mother Teresa. People whose practices exhibit their committed assent, you know people who live out what they believe. You can't actually have the church without saints. Without the apostles, without those who were initially formed by Jesus whose main task was of course precisely gathering a handful of people together and training them as disciples.
It's about doing. This is not a point that undermines the priority of grace, which is the great reformation level argument which has caused such havoc, which isn't to say it wasn't justified that Luther for example wasn't right in protesting. To protest for the gospel is of course the imperative. But to emphasise this thing about doing, it is not to undermine the priority of grace. The wonderful prayers, the collects in the Book of Common Prayer, about "Go before us with your grace that all our works might be begun, continued and ended in you." Grace precedes activity and anything which we do which is of God and displays God we are able to do by grace alone. So I am not arguing against the priority of grace at all. What I am saying is the strand which comes in through people like James and some of the Johannine letters, that unless we exhibit in our behaviour, something different, then grace is not having a purchase on our lives. It is about doing.

In the Book of Revelation, as I have quoted before, in the last judgement it says very explicitly, Chapter 20, "The dead will be judged according to their deeds." This doesn't mean that if we do the right thing we will have earned our salvation, it does mean that grace has fruit. And it is the fruits of our lives which we will be assessed on. Or Matthew 7, "Not everyone who calls me Lord, but those who DO the will of my Father." Or from Micah, "What does the Lord require of us, but to DO justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly before our God." And this is where it is worth saying something about the heart and about belief. When St Paul says, "Unless you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, then you shall not be saved." And because of the enlightenment, western culture is very prone to misunderstand the second part of that, about belief.

Let me give you an example to bring it out. If you talk to a quantum physicist they might tell you that at the subatomic level there are things such as quarks and they are strange particles and there is a Higgs Boson and all this sort of thing, and you might say "I believe you, I believe that this is true," and some more information goes into your head about the way in which physical reality is structured - that at the subatomic level there are quarks and they strange and they have Higgs Bosons and so on and so forth, and it makes absolutely no difference to how you live. In contrast, some beliefs change your heart. And the difference is that the beliefs which change your heart have an impact on how you live your life, your motivations change, and once your motivations change, the way you live out your actual life and your choices change. And it's that latter sense that St Paul is talking about.

If we believe in our hearts that God raised Jesus from the dead and established him as our Lord, then we will do what he tells us to do. "If you love me, you will obey my commandments." It's about the transformation of the heart, which cannot but radiate outwards in how we relate to each other. If we experience the grace of being a forgiven sinner, then we will stop judging other sinners, for example. And so if you have someone who is caught up with a desire to judge and condemn and to exclude, I won't name names, but I have someone in mind, not in this country, then that is a pretty clear instance that that heart has not been transformed. At least to that extent.

So this question of Christian ethics, ethos, the doings, our story is set against a different horizon. The world establishes the parameters for what it does and it says these are the things which are important, these are the foundational values - you must fear death, you must accumulate wealth, you must be socially respected - these sorts of things are the values, the foundational values of the world. And we as Christians have a different horizon against which we set the stories of our lives, that we are precisely not afraid of death, that we think that the repute of the world is to be scorned because we are foolish. To be a Christian is to be foolish in the sight of the world, we're weird, we're strange, I'll come onto that. That's something that might be the next one. We are aliens in the world. We don't belong here and there is a profound sense in which we do belong here, we are creatures living within the creation.

But this book of Hauerwas, we are resident aliens, aliens in the sense of immigrants and we actually have our lives shaped by a different civilisation, a different culture one determined by Christ. He is the Lord of our culture, and therefore all the different cultures within the world which might want, seek to shape us are not for us final authorities. And so we are aliens. We have to get used to the fact that the world will see us like this. Hallelujah!

We must be weird for the sake of the gospel, except that we are weird. This is St Francis, just talking about some of the Christian virtues, I won't say too much because of time, but one I really want to emphasise is imagination. That we are called to imagine the world differently to how it is. We have to have our imaginations formed by the Kingdom in order that the Kingdom may come. The chap who I have quoted before, an outstanding Old Testament teacher called Walter Brueggeman wrote a book called The Prophetic Imagination, and one of the core elements in that is he is saying that the Old Testament prophets first of all imagined and taught to the community that the world didn't have to be the way it was, so Moses as the great pioneer of this - his first and most difficult and most important task was to go to the Hebrew slaves and say, "God doesn't want you to be slaves any more. You don't have to be slaves." And this was unthinkable, they were born as slaves, they grew up as slaves, their parents and grandparents had died as slaves, that was the way of the world and the one who had the prophetic ministry went to them and said, "It doesn't have to be like this."

Those of you doing the Lent courses, William Wilberforce, "It doesn't have to be like this." God calls something new into being and if we train our imaginations to be formed by the Christian story, we are opening it up to hearing when God says, "It doesn't have to be like this, I have a different form of life intended for you. One which allows you to be human, to flourish." Another quotation from Hauerwas. When the church fails at this difficult and hard and challenging process of actually making disciples in obedience to our Lord's command, when we stop forming people as Christians, then we are just trying to make people a little bit better. You know, be a bit nicer to each other. You know the Church has been captured by the world, all we are are people applying a little bit of oil to the machinery to stop the squeals when those who are suffering under injustice cry out. We are just trying to make the system run a bit better. And the Pastor becomes the Court Chaplain, presiding over the cult ceremonies or, worse, he becomes, she becomes the cult prostitute, trying to pander to the needs, the anxieties of the upwardly mobile middle-class.

That's not what the church is here for. We are here for something rather more fundamental than that. We are called to live in the Kingdom and the thing about living in the Kingdom, in Christ's Kingdom is that you come into conflict with the worldly kingdoms. "You cannot serve two masters, you will either love the one and you will hate the other." I think Martin Luther King is a good example. The kingly powers of his time were accepting the injustices of racial segregation and he had the prophetic ministry of saying. "God doesn't approve of this and it doesn't have to be like this. Even if you have been born in this culture and your parents and your grandparents have absorbed all the teachings of this culture, this culture has got it wrong." And God says, "It will be different." God calls us into a different way of life.
And of course, the kingdom of this world killed him.

To claim Christ as King and Lord is inevitably political, it cannot but be political, it involves the way in which a community lives and if a community starts living according to different values, it will clash, there will be conflict with the world. One quotation. "Why did Jesus die? Why was he killed?" He wasn't killed because he said, "Let's be nice to one another, let's be nice, pink and fluffy and love." No-one's going to be offended at that, that's just pouring a bit of oil on the squeaky machinery. He was killed because he was a threat, a mortal threat to the powers that be. The religious authorities who were very comfortable thank you very much, "Yes we are the children we are assured of our salvation, that's it, let's get on and make lots of money." Some contemporary echoes there. And he was killed by the political authorities, it was a political execution, it was the Roman state which killed him, because he challenged the state. This is precisely the way of the cross, that we are called to do. If we don't come into conflict with the world, something is wrong, we are salt that has lost its flavour, worthy only to be trampled underfoot. We are to be different from the world. We are aliens here.

Another wonderful quotation, "Unable through our preaching, baptism and witness to form this visible community of people who are different and thereby by becoming the light to attract people to the light, unable to do that, we just lobby the political leaders to say, "Go on be nice, let's try and reduce our carbon emissions a little bit." It's all displaced activism, it's not that we change and we set up structures within which it is possible to live in this changed fashion, we just go along with the ways of the world. We become the big campaigning group, that actually puts the onus of decisions and changing of life somewhere else. Rather than it being within us, within the church community, it is all displaced, it's elsewhere. Asking the culture to be a little less racist, a little less promiscuous, a little less violent.

That's a picture of Taize, it's a place that has had a big influence on me and it's really just to say how the heart to re-emphasise really what I was talking about in the last session, the heart of what the Church is about is worship. Because worship is where we learn to be different. Worship is the primary means of making disciples. This is why worship and getting worship right is so important, because worship is where we come into the presence of God, formatively and we are formed differently. We hear the word, we share the sacrament and then that changes us. This is what worship is for. The Church is not primarily a campaigning group, it's not primarily a social club, it does involve service to the world which is what liturgy originally meant. It's like the public utilities, it's what liturgy came from, public works.

But we are to be accountable to our worship, we are accountable to what we say on a Sunday morning. When we say we repent of our sins and all the things that divide us and all the ways in which we are destroying God's creation, we are accountable to what we say, and if the rest of our week doesn't reflect that, then what we say on a Sunday morning, we will be judged by our own words. Jesus says at one point, "Your own words condemn you." He is quoting the King, "Your own words condemn you." But that's the position. We are here to witness to something different, and that is crucially what is going on in worship, that in worship we are precisely forming ourselves differently. And if we can't see on the Sunday morning that we are being informed about something different, different priorities, we worship a different God to the God's of the culture, then we have lost the point of what we are here for.

Our aim is precisely to show the light promised to us in the Kingdom, the life of the Kingdom. We are to be the first fruits of God's redemption of the world, we are to show where the world is going to. And we can only do that by being different from the world. Final quotation, one of my favourite bits, "Our claim is not that this tradition will make sense to the world". It won't make sense to the world, you can't justify this in terms of what the world values, because the world's values are wrong. We can't justify ourselves to the world and to try to justify ourselves to the world is a mistake. It will lead us into the wrong path. We are called to obey primarily Christ's commands to us. The claim is not that it makes sense, the claim is that it is true. That God really is the one that is revealed in Jesus, that God isn't unlike Jesus, that God shows us who he is, what his purposes are for us. We claim that this is the truth, and we live by that truth. We allow that truth to shape us, to control our choices, and therefore we live differently. Unless we actually live differently we are failing to be Christians. Which sets us up for the next and final session, when I shall try and indicate how differently we are called to live today.

[Q] Are we eventually going to be drowned unless the church goes out and starts trying to pull people in and oiling a few wheels?

I am going to reply to that what might seem obliquely, the story about the Russian church, which was very severely circumscribed under Communism and they basically said, "Look if you allow us to keep our liturgy, we won't say anything else. We won't criticise the politicians." And the politicians thought, "Alright, we'll do that." And therefore, although there was lots of oppression of Christians, the actual practice of worship was maintained. And there is this description of what was going on in the churches in the late eighties where there church buildings were dilapidated and all you had in the church in Russia were half a dozen old ladies keeping things going. And yet twenty years later the churches there are completely transformed and resurrecting in a powerful sense and that's only possible because of that faithful witnesses of those half a dozen old ladies keeping the fire going.

[Q] Wasn't there also the underground church?

Yes. It's interesting though that the underground church goes straight back to the public churches, redoes the public churches, re-engages in the public liturgy. There was an awful amount of underground stuff, but I think the same applies today, there is an awful lot of stuff going on underneath the surface, even if we just look at what is going on on the surface in the Church of England or the other churches, the Methodists have got the hardest task ahead of them that the Church of England is only a little bit behind. There is all sorts of things going on, bubbling on underneath the surface. What I am saying is that we don't need to despair because of what we can see on the tip of the iceberg, because God will not let the gates of hell prevail against the church. Also there is, I think there is an awful lot that we can do. Even, you know, the people gathered here. We start where we are and if we move in the way that God is calling us to move, he will strengthen it, he will support it, he will bless it, if it is of God, it will be blessed. Is that an answer?

[Q] We have just come back from a church in Sevenoaks of 700 people where the average age is 35, so we must try and see the bigger picture.

I think there are lots of very, very successful church groups bringing in young people, Causeway is one. You know Causeway on the Island, lots and lots of teenagers and twenty somethings.

[Q] The interesting thing is that when one of our leaders gets up and speaks, you get well the thing that he goes on about is well I was once a drunk, nothing's changed.

Exactly. That's what I was saying about believing in the heart, it changes the life. That which was seen as of value before is now seen as worthless, and actually the things which give life are actually embraced and the lives are transformed, the result of embracing that which gives life.

[Q] There is a community in Canada who won't have blood transfusions for their children, but the courts came in and made them give a blood transfusion and that is a Christian community and this is the way they want to live, but politicians ...

Sorry which is the Christian community?

The Jehovah's witnesses, the religious community.

[Q] And they said this is how we want our lives to be lived, but their community isn't being allowed to live how they want to, and I have seen it is being played out in our courts as well, I mean there is just this ongoing, it is always going to be there, the battle between the community and what people think should happen. So I don't really know, is it going to be something.

People's choices.

[Q] We're not being allowed to have them.

This goes back to the thing about obedience, especially in North American culture, personal choice is exalted as an idol and if you transgress this idol of personal choice then you must be doing something wrong, but just to come back to that specific example about blood transfusions to give a theological critique if you like, it flows from a particular reading of particular Old Testament passages about the blood being the life and so forth, but it is manifestly something which destroys life in this world, so what you have is a doctrine which is directly destructive of life in this world. Now I am not really convinced that that is what God is intending, but for example, children should be allowed to die when the option for saving a child's life is present. 48.15