Tuesday, July 31, 2007

TBTM20070731


The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who in the name of charity and goodwill shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee.

Let the reader understand.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Hyperion (Dan Simmons)



I wouldn't say that this was stupendously good - but it's not far off. Perhaps not as good as Foundation or the first Dune - probably my favourite sf books - but as good as Donaldson's Gap series. Very interesting thoughts woven through the story; I'm now eager to read the next one. I love the idea of earth being destroyed by a big mistake...

TBTM20070730


Go in my name and because you believe others will know that I live.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Life and Work of a Priest (John Pritchard)


I thought this book was very good, and I would recommend it - in fact, wearing my 'Warden of Ordinands' hat I'm probably going to require people to read it! Very sane, thorough, hopeful.

TBTM20070728


I feel a rant coming on.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Long interview with Bishop Robinson

Well worth the time it takes to read it. Much that I didn't know. Though I have to say that the emphasis on 'therapy' raises a few hackles....

Wow

Go read this.

All is explained


(HT MadPriest)

TBTM20070727


I think one of the most important reasons why atheism no longer holds any intellectual attraction for me is because it is dull. It is not a wisdom tradition. It has nothing to say to how to live a life in a rich and fulfilling fashion. As I've said elsewhere, if I wasn't a Christian - if I became convinced that, eg, Christ did not rise from the dead in any meaningful sense - then I'd become a Buddhist. I'd swap one wisdom tradition for another. I wouldn't kill myself - which is what atheism amounts to.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

LUBH 8 - the second great commandment

Mainly talking about poverty. Click 'full post' for text.

LUBH 8: The Second Great Commandment

We are looking today at the second great commandment and I am sure that all of you all remember the most important commandment "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul", second, "Love thy neighbour as thyself". The great teachings of the prophets tend to be centred on two things which Jesus was summing up when he gave his two commandments. The first is precisely right worship, having nothing else in the place of God and the second is right relations, love your neighbour as yourself, but really what it is about is poverty. It is about making sure that no-one gets left behind. Now this is not a marginal part of Scripture, something like two thousand verses in the Bible refer to poverty, that express God's concern for the poor. If you go through, for example, the prophets and take out all the bits that deal with poverty, you have taken out rather a lot. The Old Testament is saturated with it. One in ten verses in the Synoptic gospels, that's Matthew, Mark and Luke, deal with poverty and in Luke it's one in seven (I didn't know that before doing a bit of research on this). But you can see it's quite a significant part even through to the New Testament which is primarily about Christ and who He was. It's fair to say it's impossible to be a Christian and not be concerned about poverty. This doesn't if you like enforce a right wing or a left wing political point. There are still all sorts of debates about what is the best thing to do about poverty. What it is saying is you can't be a Christian and be unconcerned; it has to be a major concern in the Christian life, to be concerned about the poor, so it's about our general priorities and our scale of values.

A quotation for you, from Deuteronomy 15: "Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart (this is the poor) then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to, there will always be poor people in the land." This is what Jesus is quoting. "There will always be poor people with you, therefore I command you to be open handed towards your brothers and towards the poor and needy." How much poverty? Well the good news is that on the whole poverty has been getting less throughout the twentieth century. This is using the United Nations definition, less than a dollar per day adjusted for what's called purchasing power parity. So it's not simply a dollar, a dollar will get you more in China than it will get you in America. So it takes that into account, but the equivalent of a dollar a day, so at the moment about 50, 55p. And you can see in particular the dark green line which is East Asia the most significant thing that has changed poverty around the world in the last twenty years is China's embrace of market reforms and this dark green line, 60% of the Chinese essentially living on less than a dollar a day in 1981 comes down to less than 20% now, it's nearly 15%. A huge shift with all sorts of ramifications which we are all aware of as China becomes much more of a market economy, much stronger economy.

But of course the one where we can have more concern is this pale blue one which is sub-Saharan Africa, that's really where the main problems lie, it has been getting worse in Africa. This is a picture of what's called the human development index, so it's not just about money, but it's taking into account all the factors like child mortality, prevalence of disease, I think literacy is included as well. And really what you can see again, you can pursue it what the different colours mean, darkest green is the richest, best off, and the black and dark reds are the worst off. And again you can see it's sub-Saharan Africa which is where the problems lie. OK? That's where the poor are in our world and where they are getting poorer as time goes on. And again this is just reinforcing the same point, the numbers of people with insufficient food and the change in the last ten, twelve years, you can see Eastern Asia, China it's got much, much better, so the green lines represent progress, the red lines represent a setback. And again you can see sub-Saharan Africa, Southern Asia which means places like Bangladesh and Southern India. So sub-Saharan Africa is the main problem. You have heard of the Millennium development goals? The aim is to by 2015 drop the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day. The red line is the goal, the pale blue line is where it was in 1990, the dark blue line is where it is in 2001. So again you can see sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are really where the problems are. The major problems.

I want to say a brief word about oil because that was the initial context, for sparking these meditations. As the oil supply contracts, which it has begun to do, last year there was a decline, what will happen is that the market will ensure that the oil goes to those who can pay for it, which of course means that the oil will be purchased by those who are comparatively well off and those who are not well off will be taken out of the market for oil, and therefore out of the market for easily portable energy. Now this has already started to happen this year, sorry in 2006, stretching back a little bit into 2005, where entire swathes of the African economy are being taken out of action. There was a very interesting article in the Financial Times a couple of months ago by the President of Senagal describing how when petrol goes up by 10 pence a litre it causes grumbling in the West, but it means that those who live on 600 dollars a year they suddenly cannot afford the oil at all, and therefore all the economic links flowing from that start to break down, and he was expressing a great deal of concern that unless this changed through 2007 into 2008 there would be a massive refugee crisis, basically as the population pursued any form of energy in order to heat, to cook food and so on. So all sorts of problems will flow from that.

And it's about things which are really trivial in many ways to us, and one example I was pondering, you know occasionally I do even less justifiable uses of the car, but taking the boys swimming in Colchester the other day, which is a sort of twenty mile round trip, is not something I particularly think about but magnify that around the population as a whole and that's drawing up a huge amount of petrol for something which is not essential to life, it is something which makes life more pleasant. But as a result of choosing to make our life more pleasant, it's actually causing severe deprivation to those who are poor. Now this is not something, and this is really the underlying point, I'm not really wanting to say this is a matter of individual choices. I think there are lots of ways in which individual choices can make a difference but actually I think there is something systemic here. Our Western economy has been built up around cheap oil and we can't simply stop it. Because to simply stop the Western economy would also cause a huge amount of suffering. But I do think our Western economy is going to be profoundly changed and altered as the cheap oil gets taken away.

Now the imbalance that I'm talking about, things that are very marginal to us would have a huge impact on especially on what you might call the Fourth World or the destitute world, sub-Saharan Africa. It is profoundly unjust as a system, not necessarily every individual person within it is choosing to be unjust, but as a system it is unjust. Now I mean that in biblical terms and I want to read to you a story I ponder a lot which I am sure you are all very familiar with which is Dives and Lazarus, because there is a very important point in it.

"There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell where he was in torment he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, "Father Abraham have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue because I am in agony in this fire." But Abraham replied, "Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony, and besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us." He answered, "Then I beg you Father, send Lazarus to my father's house for I have five brothers, let him warn them so that they will not also come to this place of torment." Abraham replied, "They have Moses and the prophets, let them listen to them." "No, Father Abraham", he said, "But if someone from the dead goes to them they will repent." He said to him, "If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead."

Lots and lots of things in that story, but the point I want to draw out from it this morning that there's no hint at all that dives the rich man does anything actively against Lazarus. He simply ignores him. You know there's no sense that Dives is horrible to Lazarus, that's it's because of the things that Dives has done that Lazarus is poor, it's simply that the rich man ignores the beggar at the gate, and it's that ignoring that the testimony of Scripture as a whole is criticising and saying renders us liable to judgement. But of course there are lots of other things in Scripture about poverty and riches. I'm sure a verse you're all familiar with: "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God".

Now one way of thinking of what Scripture talks about in these terms, is to think in terms of social justice. Because Scripture is not actually against material blessing. If you think of the vision of the Promised Land, it's the land flowing with milk and honey. It is a materially wealthy environment which is God's intention for us. And nor is it strictly speaking against absolute poverty, in the sense that the embrace of poverty is not something which is alien to God's intentions for us. I'll say more about that as we come on. It is against - and very, very strongly against - the idea that some people get left behind. OK, so to use modern language, the Bible is less concerned about absolute poverty than about relative poverty. It's about people not being able to share in the community and it's about not leaving people behind, not letting some people suffer while other people enjoy great wealth. It's the imbalance that is being criticised. OK, hence "Love thy neighbour as thyself." You don't separate love of neighbour and love of self. You are part of the community. It's a very communal attitude in Scripture.

Now I want to mention an article which I read, must have been about 1988 I think, in the Economist, which was comparing the reaction of the British and French governments to the decline of the coal industry in both countries, where to sum up, the British government has said "Let market forces decide", and therefore you have the spectacle of entire communities being destroyed across the North of England, where the main source of income, the pit, suddenly closes overnight and you have the majority of the working people laid off, and not very much was done about it. The mantra was, "Market forces will decide." And the Economist article was comparing this to the approach in France, which was also recognising that continually subsiding coal mining was not a very good idea for all sorts of reasons, but they basically said, they are going to take these coal mines out of commission over a period of twenty years so that the communities have time to adjust. In other words there was a concern on the part of their governments about the human impact of allowing market forces to lead the discussion, to lead the decisions. And of course, that means that we can still see the differences twenty years on. I just think that captures for me a different sense of priorities and what Scripture is very clear about is that one of those sets of priorities is much better than the other.

Now just to reiterate, this isn't really a party political point, because there might have been all sorts of ways in which this situation in Britain could have been addressed without, if you like, top down government intervention. The issue was that there was no concern taken. If you read some of the biographies of Thatcher, Margaret Thatcher, who was admirable in all sorts of ways, there is this very telling bit in the early 80's when she talks about, "These are not our people". And that's really what I'm trying to get at. The sense that "these are not our people". That's the heinous sin in biblical terms. You know, it's not to say that this particular solution is the one which has to be chosen, it's to say we must be concerned, we can't say these are our people, those are the others and we are not going to worry about them. Come back to Dives and Lazarus. Dives doesn't do anything active against Lazarus, he just ignores it, ignores him, and it's that process of ignoring and not caring which is the concern.

Now three tools just to reiterate, which we are using in each section, idolatry, wrath and apocalypse. So look for where there might be an idol, consider what happens when idols are removed, and the language of apocalypse or to be more precise, eschatology. What is it like to live in the kingdom, where are we going, assuming that God is in charge, that he will accomplish his purposes, how can we live in the light of what's coming. OK, just to reiterate.

Now I think the idol in particular which we need to be concerned about is growth. Understood as economic growth, which as an ex-Civil Servant, I have read many, many politicians speeches, I would be delighted if I never have to read another politician's speech in my life, but you will see, if you look at politician's speeches how there is lip service paid to economic growth so often. Now this is something which has been building for a long time, the economy has been growing for a long time and if you remember our third session when I was talking about exponential growth rates, you will see slow growth for a very, very long period of time and suddenly it starts to accelerate and zooms upwards, which is what has happened with Western economies. Now one of the reasons, in many ways is a very sane reason why such a dominant political concern is the experience of the 1930's when growth reversed, there was very large scale widespread unemployment, huge social misery which was only really alleviated by the shift into the war economies through the 40's. And the reasons why that happened to the Western economy, and there are still all sorts of academic debates about it, but this is something which the political classes are very committed to ensuring doesn't happen again. Now I'm sure that's one of the underlying reasons, it's a question of fear, they are afraid of it happening again.

Now that, there is a group of six bars or eight bars covering different areas, you can see hidden underneath it, the exponential curve, since the industrial revolution here, growth, physical growth has taken off and it has shot up. We are astonishingly wealthy as a community, as a world society, we have more wealth than we know what to do with, but the systemic problems are that it all gets accumulated, you know,"to those who have, more will be given, and from those who have little, even that will be taken away."

Now of course, Jesus has a very explicit instruction, "You cannot serve both God and mammon." Mammon is the god of wealth. So if you are concerned to worship the god of wealth or economic growth, then you can't also serve God. Now what is growth, beyond a certain point of having enough food to eat, clothing on your back, shelter from the wind and the rain, what does growth actually mean, because for the vast majority of our society, we left behind that level of need quite a long time ago. Alright, even if after the war we had rationing and so forth when we were much better fed than we are now, you know the sense of being afraid of famine in Britain is not really what is driving our economic growth. It's more and more stuff. And we have to buy stuff in order that people can be employed making stuff. And they need to be employed making stuff so that they can buy stuff. And so you get more and more stuff and you get stuffed. One definition of cancer, OK, is growth in a part of an organism which takes no regard of the health of the wider organism. It's one bit which has run away growth without respect to the wider context.

Now our human economy, our human ecology, involves many, many more aspects, you know human civilisation has much more to it than the accumulation of stuff, but the stuff growing has been growing without respect to the wider human context, and so when you hear politicians say we must have more growth, we must ensure that the growth of our economy continues to give jobs etc., try and add in each time you hear politicians say growth, the phrase "of our cancer". Because what's going on is that the economy is becoming more and more separate from the human concerns which are actually its base, that the economy is becoming more and more distorted and damaging. This was the sense in our last session talking about the environmental impact, that essentially what needs to happen is that the economy, you know the monetary flows and industry and so forth, needs to be reintegrated with our human context. And let us be human is our motto.

(The quote is from Isaiah Chapter 3, "The spoil of the poor is in your houses", which my ethics tutor at university delighted in quoting to me. I'll come back to that.)

Mammon soldiers, I want to say something briefly about this because it's not just a governmental point, it's not just about governments. Think of a listed company which has a certain legal personality and certain legal duties in terms of maximising the value for its shareholders. You have an institution which is geared up in pursuit of very defined aims, and those who work within that company, if they do not pursue those aims, they can either be liable, or they can be sacked or even taken to court. OK? Is that generally understood? But what you have, if, and again, it begs a lot of wider political questions which perhaps we can go into in the discussion later, because it is not a monochrome situation, but what you can have developing then, and I will give you an example, is a situation where an entire company is oriented on something which is destructive of wider humanity. Because they are doing what the whole company is designed to do, the company is designed to pursue economic growth for itself, and that is reinforced and strengthened by everything surrounding it in terms of its legal structure, its corporate ethos and so forth. And the issue is that this is not necessarily something which is healthy for the wider human context.

I think a good example is Exxon, and its financing of climate denial. For the last ten, fifteen years, Exxon has funded at least a dozen, what are called think tanks with very impressive academic sounding titles, like the Institute for Climate Research, for example, and of these many different think tanks which they directly fund, they often had the same people working for them, and all they do is push out - and this was a conscious strategy, there is documentation to prove this - there is a conscious strategy to persuade the media that there is debate in the scientific community about the nature of global warming. It wasn't even to prove that global warming is wrong, the aim, the conscious aim was to ensure that the media portrayed it as a debate. Now for those of you who went to see Al Gore's film, "The Inconvenient Truth", there is this wonderful moment when he surveys I think the last fifteen years of published scientific papers on global warming, of which not 1% denied the reality of global warming, and it compared it to the articles in the media, discussing global warming which were split pretty evenly between those who said it was true and those that said it was false. In other words Exxon's strategy had succeeded.

And they are doing the same with oil, about peak oil, I won't talk about that too much now. The thing about what Exxon has done to change the way that this debate is framed and understood in the media, is a good example of something where a company has pursued its own interest at the expense of the wider community. And within the terms of what the company has set up to do it is entirely rational, it makes perfect sense. This has meant that they can have a better return on their investment for their shareholders. Does that make sense? And so I think we can think of them as mammon's soliders, because they are working for mammon.

Now partly I think it's a cultural thing and if you like the health or if you like morality of a company is not detachable from the health or morality of its wider society, OK. The Anglo Saxon companies tend to be a little bit more short-term for example than say the Japanese companies, which tend to go more for long-term market share, so you can't detach, it is not purely a question of the legalities and so forth, it is something that reflects on the wider culture. But really, the point I'm trying to make is that business logic is different to Christian logic and the church and Christian community should feel bold enough to say that this is not acceptable, you know simply because something makes money and preserves jobs and so forth does not make it immune to criticism, that there are more important things than that. Like for example, avoiding catastrophic climate change. So that's the idol, mammon.

God's wrath, remember I was saying God's wrath is simply when we experience the consequences of our actions. When you worship an idol the idol gives you what it promises, but takes life in return, so the idol of economic growth will give you economic growth but will take your life in return. So for example, although most surveys of economic growth concentrate on what's called GDP or Gross Domestic Product, Gross National Product and so forth, which is looking at how much stuff is done, the last ten/fifteen years there are lots of ways in which the assessment of our economies has been done differently. So for example, looking at the human quality of life which gives a value or assessment to things like clean air, literacy rates, and using these, particularly in the States where it's clearest, there has actually been, although there has been a monetary increase, you know there has been economic growth, there is more money going around, there has actually been quite a significant decrease in the average quality of life for at least twenty years. Mammon is giving economic growth, but it is taking life in exchange.

Anyhow, idols always collapse in the end and we can be fairly specific about it in the context of peak oil, physical growth will come to an end, just as a purely physical law you can't continue to expand the physical process when you have a significantly contracting energy base. Hence the thing about oil. What won't necessarily cease, and one of the things we can hope for, is actually human growth, human development doesn't have to cease. And there are lots of ways in which the economy can shift away from something which is so dominated by the physical to a situation which emphasises the exchange of creativity. These things are not directly affected by the problems with oil and energy. So there is no reason why human civilisation cannot be rich in a civilisational sense, even if we haven't got quite so much stuff. You know, think of Ancient Greece. They didn't have half so much stuff but they had a rich society. So I'm just thinking in terms of the physical basis is going impacted. You will see the truth of our present situation. It's one of those things that is so big and so vast, it's often not addressed, it's ignored. The question of how our whole society is structured around preserving growth. That when growth is taken away and chances are at least for a generation or two it will never come back, then suddenly we will see the ways in which our society, our community needs to change, it will see the truth and the truth will set us free. God will destroy what I think of as the systemic injustices.

There will be various consequences to this, not least of which human suffering, where as I say, it has already begun, it's already started to happen and I think it has been happening for ten, twenty years. A graph which I put up when we looked at the catastrophes which looks at available energy per capita, which peaked in about 1979, which means less energy per person in the world ever since, and I think it's sub-Saharan Africa which has been, if you like, where the problems started and of course it's spreading. How far it spreads is still to be determined.

And the result of this will be as the President of Senegal warn in his article, human movement, mass migrations, you know. When people start starving, can't feed themselves, they will move. And watch Mexico. Mexico's oil production, well Mexico's economy is heavily linked into the production of oil by the state-owned national oil company called Pemex. OK, Petrol of Mexico. And they have, just off shore, the largest oil field in the Western hemisphere, called Cantarell which is huge, the third largest in the entire world, largest in the Western hemisphere, and it is what has been sustaining the Mexican economy for twenty, thirty years. Vast flows of money coming through from it, and the production from that well is crashing. It was up to I think just over two million barrels a day, it went down by about two hundred thousand barrels per day just in the last six months. And that rate of decline is going to impact on everything to do with Mexico's society. OK? And watch what happens when the people in Mexico move. You know, I have mentioned this before, President Bush signing the bill to pay for a wall to be built, and the walls are going to start going up. Anyway, it is something to watch. And something we will talk about a little bit more next week is what will the governments in these countries do when they see such problems and destitution?

Eschatological imagination, again, just to refresh, where are we going and how can we live in a way that's in sympathy with it now? How can we live now according to the Kingdom that's coming? How can we change what we are doing now so we are in tune with God's final intentions for us? In a phrase, voluntary simplicity. Simplifying our lives. Not being so caught up in the great cycle of stuff. Stop passing new stuff on. Or a different way of putting it "most of twentieth century culture isn't worth it". I haven't actually watched any but all the articles and fuss about Big Brother. It's calling for a fundamental change in our values. OK? That we give value to different things. That we embrace the things that actually enrich our human lives. That we don't simply accumulate. The spoil of the poor is in your houses. And it's a bit of weird movement, marching to have less, not saying we want more of x, y or z, but actually quietly stopping marching if you like. Dropping out to use a sixties phrase.

And of course there is lots of backing for this in Scripture. St Paul, "I have learned to be content with whatever I have". How about that for a radical sentence? That's someone who is not wanting to accumulate more stuff. "I know what it is to have little, I know what it is to have plenty, I have learned the secret of being well fed and going hungry, of having plenty, of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me". He has got his relationship to God right. Everything else then falls into place. Or in 1 Timothy, "Great gain in godliness combined with contentment, we brought nothing into the world and we take nothing out." The idea that he who dies with the most toys wins. I think not.

So in some ways a slightly underwhelming conclusion, I will come back to this theme but just for today to finish with this. Stop buying stuff. I'm taking to myself here as well. But I do have a New Year's resolution which I am going to try and keep because my besetting sin is buying books, you know, and I have got at least a year's worth of books accumulated to read and I think this is scandal, I need to stop, but I am aware of what it is to compulsory purchase. At least Tom Wright's earnt a lot more recently!

So purchase stuff for the long term. Purchase stuff which will last or which can be fixed. It is getting more and more difficult because of course, things like a toaster, OK, they are not designed to be fixed, they are designed to be thrown away, if they go wrong. This is insane! We have got an economy which is structured where that makes sense in economic terms. It's barking mad! But is makes sense in economic terms. This is all common sense really.

The three R's. You might have heard this. The three R's are reduce, reuse and recycle in that order. You know recycling is a good thing but it is not as good, it's not as important as reusing things or simply not purchasing them or using them in the first place. That's the hierarchy, reduce consumption comes first. I'm sure you've all heard the phrase, "Walk lightly on the earth," or "Live simply so that others might simply live." This is not new stuff. Concentrate on being human, one of the most important distinctions I think to hold on to is the difference between the tool, which is something that you use, often that you use for your labour, and possessions, which is just the stuff that accumulates. Which is why I don't feel quite as guilty as I might about my books, I am sure I have quoted this before, I had a conversation with my ethics tutor on this very subject when I expressed even twenty years ago my concern about purchasing too many books, he said, "Well actually, your theology books are your tools." And it's true. These are the things that I work with, even there though I think there are options for minimising and restricting.

Are people familiar with Kahlil Gibran's "The Prophet"? He has some very telling things to say on this subject, about comfort. And he says, "Comfort begins as a guest in the house, then it becomes the master of the house, and then it becomes a tyrant who makes a mockery of our flesh." Because we get used to being couch potatoes.

Now one thought which is part of the reason why I was wanting to have the film shown in here, going into so many people's houses, people have DVD libraries. I've got one, my favourite films, but actually so many people have got copies of exactly the same films. Why shouldn't we share? For example, why couldn't the church invite people to share their DVD libraries, sell all the duplicate copies off and give the money to the poor, and actually operate a little library, free library, not something they have to pay for, but just where the people of this community share something. But of course, that raises all sorts of cultural questions. You know, "It's no longer mine!"
"Aaah". "What if it gets broken?" "Aaah".

Final quotation: "If you wish to be complete, go and sell all you have and give to the poor" . I'll stop there.

[Inaudible question] No it's not true. The price of oil has come down for two reasons, one is that swathes of the Third World have been taken out of the buying market, they are simply no longer buying so there is less demand, but the other is the very, very mild winter. People are not needing to purchase as much gas or oil for heating. I think there is also a third reason which is that the price was pushed up by speculation over the summer and when it was realised that we weren't going to have quite such a bad hurricane season, those positions taken by the speculators have unwound, and that's given a bit of acceleration. But I think the main reason is we are going to have a very mild winter across the Northern Hemisphere. Across the Northern Hemisphere is the mildest winter for you know decades, I can't remember the exact figure, but it is a very, very mild winter, and I am sure you have all noticed. Someone was telling me this morning there has only been three frosts so far, but that is the main drop in drive, the demand has been less. Much less than expected for this time of year. So hence the price drops.

I asked my Bible group yesterday, we were talking about anger, "When was the last time that the church, not individual members of the church, including individual leaders of the church, but when was the last time the church as a whole, corporately, either Church of England, or an ecumenical thing, officially expressed anger at injustice?" And if it hasn't for a while, because we couldn't think of an occasion, if it hasn't, why not?! Come back in two weeks and I will be saying a bit more about that.

I think this is very much something which churches should engage with. I think the root of it is about raising the concern. I think one of the good things which the Christian community has been involved with over the last few years is the Jubilee campaign. Which was precisely about this, I haven't talked about debt today, it raises lots of issues, and debt in terms of international relations and so forth, but also debt within our society. I think debt is a great hidden problem and that's something where I think the churches should be doing something. You know the Bible is pretty clear about the evil of usury. It is much clearer about that than it is about some of the other things that we get agitated about. But the ways in which families get destroyed and when loan sharks move in and you get these 25% at best interest rates, there's no way that can be justified from a Christian perspective.

There is an issue and I have tried to make it clear earlier. I think there are things which we as individuals can do, and there are even more things, and even more important things which we can do corporately, together as a church community. But I don't think we can solve these problems. And I don't actually think that we should try and labour ourselves, and weigh ourselves down with the expectation that we can, because actually I think God is in charge, not us. And much of what is coming is God, we can view it as God acting to dismantle the things, we call if you like, the structures of oppression. God is going to act, God is going to take these things down. A wonderful Johnny Cash song, "Sooner or later, God's gonna cut you down."

In the last session, I have started drafting this already, I am going to finish up with a dozen pledges, things that we can commit ourselves to as a community and number one is prayer. I think that the thing to do is to move towards the kingdom, move in the right direction and not worry too much about the fact that we are embedded in sin and we cannot escape from the sin. You know, this is what Jesus died on the cross to set us free from and therefore we don't actually have to get too het up about it. We must do our best to move away from them, we must do our best to bear the fruits that befits repentance and so on. But not feel it's like mortified that for example, I take my kids swimming. We live in the society that we do and the society as a whole is itself is enmeshed in sin. And simply by existing in society, by shopping, by eating food, we cannot avoid sharing in a sinful community. But you know, we should do what we can and keep pressing on in the direction of the Kingdom, but not get too het up by the fact that we are not going to be pure, because we're not. We are never going to be pure this side of the second coming.

My name is Sam, and I am addicted to blogging

78%How Addicted to Blogging Are You?
(HT Calacirian)

TBTM20070726


We're off to see the wizard

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Ah good. We can all go back to sleep then.

A bit more bull

I've been reflecting on the 'dialogue' that was taking place over at Stephen Law's site, about the problem of suffering and so on. A few things come to mind, the first a quotation that I may well have shared before:
The 'third rate' critic attacks the original thinker on the basis of the rhetorical consequences of his thought and defends the status quo against the corrupting effects of the philosopher's rhetoric. 'Second rate' critics defend the same received wisdom by semantic analyses of the thinker which highlight ambiguities and vagueness in his terms and arguments. But 'first rate' critics "delight in the originality of those they criticise...; they attack an optimal version of the philosopher's position"--one in which the holes in the argument have been plugged or politely ignored.

I don't know who originally wrote it, but it was Matt K who posted it on the MD discussion board about five years ago when I came across it. It has more and more resonance with me as time goes on. (NB I'm thinking in this post primarily of the other commenters, not Stephen himself, who seems more circumspect).

The second thing that strikes me, in a sort of 'background awareness' sort of way - that is, I might be wrong but haven't yet seen any reason to suspect that I am - is that my interlocutors mistake the nature of religious language. I have written elsewhere about there being different sorts of knowledge or belief - compare for example 'Mrs Jones has committed adultery' and 'your wife has committed adultery' - and the point is the embedded nature of religious beliefs within certain practices and forms of life. In other words, the depth grammar of religious belief is not the same as the depth grammar of, eg, a scientific debate. Scientific or philosophical language is simply not the same sort of thing as religious language. My interlocutors seemed to believe that if they could point out an inconsistency or gap in my thinking, in an abstract sense, then this would be enough for my whole way of life to come crumbling down around my ears. Hence the discussion rather rapidly seemed unreal. There is, here, I suspect, a commitment to an Enlightenment-era model of rational discourse, which gives rationality the primary place in shaping a world view. In my view rationality has very definite uses, but there comes a time when it is redundant in assessing truth.

One aspect of this is something I call John Locke's ghost - that is, I believe that my interlocutors are haunted by seventeenth century terrors. John Locke advanced the argument that we are morally accountable for our beliefs (see this book), and the context for this was the way in which the peace of Europe had been sundered by (supposedly) religious warfare through the preceding 150 years or so. There is therefore a peculiar static charge associated with accepting ambiguity in a world-view - if you quite happily accept that there is something not fully understood in your belief system then you are fall under a judgement of moral failure - and thus a fear for life and property. I think this is often completely unconscious - it's been absorbed into general Western culture (especially academic culture) - but it isn't a perspective that can sustain much rational scrutiny itself. It's a ghost that could do with a proper burial.

Which leads into the final thing I would want to say - the incomprehension and ridicule of mystery. Mystery seems to be assessed as the complete abdication of rational faculties, rather than their fulfilment (which is how mysticism is understood in the Christian tradition). To bring out this point it's worth making a comparison with the way that science evolves. No scientific view or theory is perfect; each has flaws and gaps; but these are not seen as things which necessarily overwhelm the system as a whole. What causes the system as a whole to collapse - ie a paradigm shift - is when the framework itself is no longer seen as fruitful for further enquiry. This was one of the points at stake in the Galileo debate - even though a heliocentric model was less accurate than the Ptolemaic one in use at the time, the heliocentric model held out the prospect of being much more fertile, which was why the scientific approach embraced it. The same thing applies to the embrace of a religious faith - here there is the possibility of 'fruitful lines of enquiry' which, translated from scientific language into religious language means 'here I can grow as a person', 'this is not sterile for me', 'this is food for my soul, not just my intellect'. That doesn't mean that there are no gaps or mysteries - but religious faith is not unique in that - it means that these particular gaps aren't overwhelming in the context of everything else in play. More than this - it is precisely the intellectual tradition of religious mysticism that gives a proper understanding of what to do in the face of these gaps.

I think my dominant impression - and it is a sad realisation - is that not only do I feel that my point of view was not understood but that there was no desire to understand it. No sense of a genuine dialogue and interchange of views, no sense that a religious believer might be something other than dishonest, intellectually crippled and emotionally cowering. There was a distinct flavour of 'real men don't eat quiche' in the comment thread - where the religious are by definition the quiche-eaters, as compared to the red blooded atheists who are the brave pioneers into the intellectual wilderness. (This despite the fact that this particular wilderness has now been so well travelled that Tesco has decided to open a new store there). My interlocutors seem content to keep their noses pressed to their well-thumbed critiques and have no desire to engage in an honest exploration of what a religious perspective entails. There seemed very little intellectual curiosity on display (and surely curiosity is linked to courage?).

I'll finish with one more quotation - again, I suspect I've quoted it before, but it is a good one - from Denys Turner, in his 'how to be an atheist' essay:
"...since today my purpose is to encourage the atheists to engage in some more cogent and comprehensive levels of denying, I shall limit my comment to saying that thus far they lag well behind even the theologically necessary levels of negation, which is why their atheisms are generally lacking in theological interest... such atheists are, as it were, but theologians in an arrested condition of denial: in the sense in which atheists of this sort say God 'does not exist', the atheist has merely arrived at the theological starting-point. Theologians of the classical traditions, an Augustine, a Thomas Aquinas or a Meister Eckhart, simply agree about the disposing of idolatries, and then proceed with the proper business of doing theology."

TBTM20070725


He was a crooked man
with a crooked smile

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

TBTM20070724


Today I celebrate four years in post. And I do mean celebrate. We had this text at Morning Prayer, which rather amused me:

Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.

He rather puts my grumbles into proper perspective!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Rev Sam, bull$4!t artist

At two of the establishments where I studied Philosophy and Theology I was tutored by Stephen Law, who I found to be a great teacher and a very nice man. He's also a very intelligent and committed atheist. I've just managed to get snagged in a discussion about evil and suffering on his blog, where one of his regulars says "I don't think you're a theist. I think, based on the arguments you've given that you're nothing but a bullshit artist".

Ho hum. From my perspective the conversation is revealing the great gulf that exists between theologians and secular philosophers of religion. We seem to be talking past each other rather painfully, which is a shame. See posts here, here and here.

TBTM20070723


...we raise a glass by the cold North Sea

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Not often seen....

Had some (very lovely) friends here Friday/Saturday - and they took some photos - so I thought I'd share one or two... The first is an image I'd never take:


Mrs Rev Sam and bambino #3 (we strongly recommend these Bali wraps - are you listening Paul?)

And this is the whole clan:

Family and friendship. That's most of what gives life meaning for me.

TBTM20070722


Don't cling to me.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Thank you for smoking


More interesting than amusing, but worth watching. Nick Naylor is a particular type of character - I suspect I'll be referring to him again.

TBTM20070719


Sarah Brightman. Like Madonna, only much better.

Burnt out clergy

A topic close to my heart, as you know (see here and here, for example).

Tom Allen tells a sad tale of a priest who has had his ministry destroyed by the process: "I sat this morning with a broken man, exhausted by the competing expectations of a diverse multi-benefice parish, and the failure (with the exception of the person mentioned above) of anyone in his Diocese to provide any kind of empathetic support or forward thinking guidance. And so a priest of great gifts and spiritual insight (who remains a man of great faith and with a profound sense of God's love for him and all people) will move onto other things in the near future - to a role which I am sure will value him for who he is and what he has to offer.."

I know people who have had precisely this experience - in fact, it was watching this happen that made me determined not to follow it. Tom provides an interesting link to this page, from which this quote comes:
Burnout may be mistaken for laziness, incompetence, instability and various types of mental illness; in particular, the symptoms of burnout are frequently mistaken for those of depression. As burnout progresses, a person's efficiency decreases, and bullied clergy may find it increasingly difficult to fulfil the obligations of their ministry. Clergy experiencing burnout may find that the expectations on them seem to increase as their energy and efficiency decrease, as congregations, unable to see that their pastor is exhausted, bring to their constant attention all those people who have yet to be visited, jobs that have yet to be done and so-on. The normal tendency in these circumstances is to try to work harder in order to meet these expectations, but this only increases the exhaustion and so compounds the problem. Growing congregational dissatisfaction with their minister's performance is readily exploited by those perpetrating the abuse, who will point to the increasingly obvious symptoms of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion as evidence that the minister is lazy, ineffective, uncaring and spiritually deficient.

Yeesss....

I was told a few days ago that there is a group of people in the parish who welcomed my arrival but who are now eager for me to be gone. Strangely, though, I am starting to care much much less about these slings and arrows. The whole issue of vocation has been very much in my mind recently, and in part the conversations about lay presidency have helped to unearth core elements of this. Two quotations from books I've read recently, which I've pondered a lot and found helpful:

The apostolic role within established churches and denominations requires the reinterpreting of the denomination's foundational values in the light of the demands of its mission today. The ultimate goal of these apostolic leaders is to call the denomination away from maintenance, back to mission. The apostolic denominational leader needs to be a visionary, who can outlast significant opposition from within the denominational structures and can build alliances with those who desire change. Furthermore, the strategy of the apostolic leader could involve casting vision and winning approval for a shift from maintenance to mission. In addition, the leader has to encourage signs of life within the existing structures and raise up a new generation of leaders and churches from the old. The apostolic denominational leader needs to ensure the new generation is not "frozen out" by those who resist change. Finally, such a leader must restructure the denomination's institutions so that they serve mission purposes.

Your job is the relentless pursuit of who God has made you to be. And anything else you do is sin and you need to repent of it.

The other thing that has really been helping me is getting stuck into 1 Corinthians. Poor Paul! Hence 'My Heart's Desire': becoming less popular isn't comfortable, but following God's claim upon me IS.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Die Hard 4.0


Really good; possibly the best since the first - and I'm most glad that the trailers didn't reveal all the good bits. Crap characterisation of the secondary characters though - but you can't have everything!

Bishops


Dave Walker puts his finger on it once more.

Got me to thinking about what a difficult job Bishops do, and what I think about situations like this. Seems to me that:

- part of the definition of accepting Bishops is accepting their eucharistic ministry;
- rejecting the administration of communion whilst accepting ordination from the same bishop tells of an utterly bankrupt understanding of the sacraments;
- if this is rejected then pretty much the whole structure of Anglicanism is rejected. So why stay?

If you haven't got an idea what I'm talking about then a) you're a lucky person, and b) you can go here for the story.

UPDATE: John Richardson always writes stimulating stuff (that means: he's got a very well thought through position that I often disagree with!), but this post is excellent, and worthy of much pondering.

TBTM20070718


May the Lord be in my heart and on my lips that I may faithfully proclaim his holy gospel, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Richard Dawkins interviews Alister McGrath



I have to say, I think I'd really enjoy a conversation with Prof Dawkins.

(HT Stephen Law)

Sing to my soul

"The first and foremost doctrine de scriptura is therefore not a proposition about scripture at all. It is rather liturgical and devotional instruction: Let the Scripture be sung, at every opportunity and with care for its actual address to hearers even if these are only the singer. The churches most faithful to Scripture are not those that legislate the most honorific propositions about Scripture but those that most often and thoughtfully sing and listen to it."

(found here)


TBTM20070717


I promise you
Blue skies

Monday, July 16, 2007

Is Christ Divided? session 10

Notes for the house groups on 1 Corinthians.

Week eight, beginning Sunday 15 July: 1 Corinthians 9.1-23

Main themes: The rights of an apostle
Paying ministers

Click 'full post' for text


Questions to prompt discussion

1.What is an apostle? What are their rights and duties?
2.Which Christian ministers should be paid for their work? Why? What issues does this raise in terms of 'clericalisation' (what Rev Sam calls the 'George Herbert model')?
3.Is language of 'human rights' Christian language? Should Christians use that language, or does it embody secular assumptions about who we are as creatures?
4.What does Paul's teaching in vv19-23 tell us about mission? In terms of the practices of our church, what do we need to hang on to, and what is open to change, in order that 'by all means [we] might save some'?

Supplementary thoughts:

The Corinthian church clearly contained elements who rejected Paul's authority, and here - as in chapters 3 and 4 - Paul is asserting his apostolic credentials and identity. Bear in mind the wider context of the argument that Paul is having with the Corinthians, where there is some sense of spiritual elitism. Paul asserts his "highest rights" - but in order to emphasise the importance of service and submission. Paul is trying to undercut the spiritual arrogance of the leaders of the Corinthian church (directly continuing the point of ch 8).

Paul emphasises that he is under a compulsion to preach the gospel, and that being paid for it would undermine his preaching. This may be because it would fit into the cultural expectations in places like Corinth, where there was a tradition of itinerant philosophers being paid for their teaching, and where manual labour was looked down upon.

Notes on verses

v 5 - note that clerical celibacy is unknown! (Celibate clergy are a medieval innovation)
vv 9-11 one of only two examples where Paul uses allegory (the other is Gal 4.21-31)
v 10 - a quotation from Ecclesiasticus, part of the apocrypha, which Paul saw as 'Scripture', 'this was written for us'.
v 14 - compare Matthew 10.10 and Luke 10.7
v 20 -21 - see Galatians 3 (indeed, all of Galatians!)

Rev Sam on the Radio (discussing Peak Oil)

Just an advance notice that on Wednesday morning I'm due to be interviewed (for an hour!) on Premier Christian radio, between 9 and 10am, British Summer Time. You should be able to listen to it on-line whilst it's happening (go to that page and click the 'listen now' button).

If you're interested, of course ;-)

TBTE20070714


I took a whole bunch of photos the other day, trying to get some sort of visual parallel between this bit of driftwood on the beach, and the sails in the background. Couldn't get it to be quite what I wanted, but this is OK I think. (I suspect I shouldn't have been using the zoom lens....)

TBTM20070716


I can't believe I've got another &*%$#@!! cold.
My nose is just exploding.

Most unpleasant, and exhausting.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Bad Sam(aritan)

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

And Jesus said: why do you ask what you need to do? Eternal life is not a matter of "doing", as if you could achieve salvation by your own efforts. You must believe the right things. If you desire eternal life, say this prayer with all sincerity "Dear Jesus, I admit that I am a sinner, deserving of Hell. Please forgive me of my sins and take me to Heaven when I die. I now believe upon You alone, apart from all works and religion, as my personal Savior. Thank you. Amen."


I'm so glad He didn't say that. And if you think this unreal, go here.

TBTM20070715


What must I do to inherit eternal life?
Go and do likewise.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Forthcoming films I wanna see...

This one looks promising


This one for the special effects and such like


This one has assembled a good cast if nothing else


Potential to be a classic sf film:


And finally this one might be really cool.

Of course, these are just the low-brow ones. I'm a boy. I like explosions.

TBTM20070714


Rota rage.

Friday, July 13, 2007

TBTM20070713


Bizarrely, I completely forgot to take my camera with me this morning, so this is from a few afternoons ago.


Thursday, July 12, 2007

Synopsis of the book (Let us be human)

This is what I've sent off to publisher #2, and I shall gradually work my way through my list of possibles. If anyone out there is interested in publishing this, do let me know ;-) Click full post for text.

BOOK SYNOPSIS: Let us be human: Prophecy, Peak Oil, and the path for the faithful

The phrase 'Peak Oil' refers to the geological law that the flow of oil from an oilfield will start small, increase over time, reach a peak and then decline. This law applies to oilfields, oil producing regions and the world at large. For some one hundred and fifty years now the industrial economy of the West has expanded in tandem with an increasing supply of oil, and we have built an entire way of life upon the free and easy access to energy that oil (along with other hydrocarbons) has provided. The Peak in world oil production is either already present or imminent within the next few years - and it means that oil will progressively become less and less available; this, in turn, means that the way of life built upon oil will break down and collapse.

There have been many books published from a secular perspective describing this phenomenon and giving more or less pessimistic analyses of what we can expect. I believe that the problems we face are ultimately spiritual in nature - we have created a world in which our humanity is distorted and defaced, and we have lost our way as a society and a culture. I believe that Christian theology has a great deal to say to this situation and that only a theological analysis can adequately assess the problems that we are facing, and describe a healing way out. In my book I therefore:
- describe what Peak Oil is, and what the implications are for the future of our civilisation;
- link it in to the wider ecological notion of 'limits to growth', and the way in which our present ways of life will of necessity come to an end;
- provide three theological 'tools' that are essential for rightly understanding our predicament; these are: a) the notion of idolatry, the distortion of values that come from placing too much importance on anything other than God; b) the notion of God's wrath, and how to rightly understand it, so that we can recognise it when we experience it; c) the notion of apocalypse, so that we can interpret the signs of the times rightly, and not be misled by secular eschatologies, which desire to destroy our world;
- apply those three tools to four areas of our life, indicating how a turning away from Christian faith has weakened our society and made us liable to God's judgement: a) in the sphere of environmental stewardship; b) in the sphere of social justice within and between nations; c) in the sphere of foreign affairs, specifically with regard to Islamic terrorism; d) in the sphere of religious teaching;
- finally I outline the ways in which a living Christian faith provides the essential means of negotiating our way forward through this crisis, looking specifically at the demands of Christian discipleship within the world, and the way in which we are called to worship. I conclude with a call to repentance on the part of the Christian community, and an outline of the renewed shape of life that we are called to live out.
~~~
Audio recordings of the talks the book is based on are here.

Poseidon


Another Peak Oil parable. This one says that in order to survive you need to avoid being either black or hispanic, or old. If you are pretty/ interesting/ and/or fertile then you'll be OK.

I saw the Steve Guttenberg TV version a few weeks ago - that didn't even merit one of my monosyllabic reviews, but in many ways that was much better, with more emphasis on character (the special effects on this one were indeed good) but neither comes close to the original. One of my formative cinematic memories is of Gene Hackman twisting the valve at the end of the first film. Let the reader understand...

Threads (BBC)


Stunning. And Very Depressing. I'm glad we didn't quite go down that route. Puts Peak Oil into a different perspective really.

(Official BBC site here; long wikipedia description here.)

Ah well

"Dear Sam,

Many thanks for thinking of DLT as a possible publisher for your book proposal It seems a very interesting project, but I’m afraid we do not think it would be quite right for the DLT profile and readership. I wish you every success in finding the right publishing partner.

With all best wishes..."

On to the next one.

TBTM20070712


I've been pondering walking on water rather a lot recently.

And here's a few from yesterday afternoon.



Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Galdor of Dorthonion

Is my elf name. Apparently. Go find yours.

My web name (Eliz....) is Elessar Narmolanya. Well. Elves should have more than one, shouldn't they?

(Found here, courtesy of the MyBlogLog process...)

A this-worldly faith (Synchroblog on Utopias)

I was once told by a friend that she couldn't become a Christian because she was too concerned about injustice in this world, and Christianity was an 'other-worldly' faith. Christians, in her view, were concerned about something other than this world, they were only concerned (selfishly) with the state of their souls in some putative after-life; thus they didn't pay enough attention to the problems that were fully present in this life; and consequently Christian faith had no attraction for her.

I have to say, I sympathised greatly with her critique. We only need to took at the way the Southern Baptist Church has resolved that there is no consensus on global warming to see a present-day example of what she criticised. So often the concentration on 'life after death' drains all the life from this time and place. Yet the sadness is that what is being rejected is not the historic faith; it is a peculiarly Modern distortion of the faith.

As I understand Christianity, it claims to offer 'eternal life' - and eternal life has two components, being something which applies outside of time (not life after death, but life in eternity), but also and most emphatically something which applies to this life in the here and now. "I have come that you might have life, and have it in all its fullness." The Prophetic tradition - in the line of which my friend undoubtedly stood - is about God's engagement with the world as we experience it, which cannot be divorced from the right understanding of God. We live in the light of eternity - but the heaven that we long for is not outside of this world; it is this world transformed by the rule of God. In other words: the Kingdom of God, on earth as it is in Heaven. Is this Utopia?

Well, we do pursue an 'ideal' world. It is - to put it mildly - a falling away from the fullness of the faith to disengage from this world and ignore the Biblical injunctions to care for the poor and destitute, to safeguard and steward our environment. What my friend rejected, I also reject. Yet I remain a Christian, and I think that there is nothing in my friend's views which is of value which isn't included in Christian faith. More than that, I think there are safeguards in Christian faith which are necessary, which my friend's perspective doesn't have - in other words, I think there are two ways in which the pursuit of the Kingdom of God is not Utopian.

The first relates to what is in our power to achieve. The Christian perspective claims that God is in charge of the world, that the earth is the Lord's and all that is in it. Howsoever grand we believe ourselves to be, however marvellous our achievements, they are nothing apart from God. You could say: having faith is the only way in which to keep our ego in check. Once we can accept this, we are given the gift of patience. The Kingdom will be established by God, so we don't have to become frustrated when we don't see it in our lifetime. We are therefore prevented from the sort of lunacies that disfigured the twentieth century, the 'great leaps forward' and such like.

But doesn't this just turn into precisely what my friend criticised? A faith which does not engage with the present world, because God will sort it out in the end? No, because of the second element: we are not in charge of establishing the Kingdom, we don't even know what it looks like, but we have been told how to build it. The issue for the faithful Christian is not one of achievement, it is one of obedience. As our Lord put it: If you love me, you will keep my commandments. The Christian is engaged in reforming the world, in contending with injustice, in making peace - but not because of a view to what will then be achieved by the Christian, or even what will happen to the soul of the Christian, but because the Christian is obedient to what Jesus taught.

It seems that my friend shares with the Christian perspective a hope for the future of our world. Yet the difference with the Christian is that the Christian knows that the Kingdom cannot be achieved by our own efforts; it comes from obedience. Because of this - because of, if you like, a much greater worldliness on the part of the Christian - I'm much more comfortable praying 'Thy Kingdom Come' than pursuing an Ozymandian Utopia.

~~~

Other people posting on this topic today:

Steve Hayes at Notes from the Underground
John Morehead at John Morehead's Musings
Nudity, Innocence, and Christian Distopia at Phil Wyman's Square No More
Utopia Today: Living Above Consumerism at Be the Revolution
Nowhere Will Be Here at Igneous Quill
Bridging the Gap at Calacirian
The Ostrich and the Utopian Myth at Decompressing Faith
Being Content in the Present at One Hand Clapping
Eternity in their Hearts by Tim Abbott
Relationship - The catch-22 of the Internet Utopia at Jeremiah's Blog
U-topia or My-topia? at On Earth as in Heaven
A SecondLife Utopia at Mike's
Musings

Mrs. Brown and the Kingdom of God at Eternal Echoes



TBTM20070711


The first step of humility is unhesitating obedience, which comes naturally to those who cherish Christ above all. Because of the holy service they have professed, or because of dread of hell and for the glory of everlasting life, they carry out the superior's order as promptly as if the command came from God himself. The Lord says of men like this: No sooner did he hear than he obeyed me (Ps 17:45); again, he tells teachers: Whoever listens to you, listens to me (Luke 10:16). Such people as these immediately put aside their own concerns, abandon their own will, and lay down whatever they have in hand, leaving it unfinished. With the ready step of obedience, they follow the voice of authority in their actions. Almost at the same moment, then, as the master gives the instruction the disciple quickly puts it into practice in the fear of God; and both actions together are swiftly completed as one.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A real church

After all my reflections on lay presidency, the Holy Father reiterates the Roman perspective that the CofE isn't a real church in any case, because it doesn't recognise him as head of the church in the sense that he wants to be recognised. Ah well.

As I think I've said before, I serve a community that worships in a place that has seen continuous worship in the name of Jesus for well over a thousand years. I'm enough of a bottom-up congregationalist to think that this is important, and that the corruptions of Popes and Kings don't overcome that essential fact.

Until we are ALL united, none of us can claim to be THE church. I do see the Pope as the successor of Peter, and I do think that says something significant - I just think that Peter would have less concern for central control and precedent.

"It seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us...."

Not alone


Time takes a cigarette, puts it in your mouth
You pull on your finger, then another finger, then cigarette
The wall-to-wall is calling, it lingers, then you forget
Oh, no, no no, you're a rock 'n' roll suicide

You're too old to lose it,
too young to choose it,
And the clock waits so patiently on your song
You walk past a cafe but you don't eat when you've lived too long
Oh, no, no, no, you're a rock 'n' roll suicide

Chev brakes are snarling
as you stumble across the road
But the day breaks instead so you hurry home
Don't let the sun blast your shadow
Don't let the milk-float ride your mind
They're so natural - religiously unkind

Oh no love! you're not alone
You're watching yourself but you're too unfair
You got your head all tangled up but if I could only make you care
Oh no love! you're not alone
No matter what or who you've been
No matter when or where you've seen
All the knives seem to lacerate your brain
I've had my share, I'll help you with the pain
You're not alone

Just turn on with me and you're not alone
Let's turn on and be not alone
Gimme your hands cause you're wonderful
Gimme your hands cause you're wonderful
Oh gimme your hands
cause you're not alone

(David Bowie)

Authority and the Bible

Note: not the authority OF the Bible. Just pondering a couple of recent comments relating to how we interpret the text of Scripture - and, indeed, having digested Allert's book, about what we are to count as Scripture or not. I'm probably a bit weird in that I came to faith after having studied the Bible in a thoroughly Modern and critical way, so the academic stuff is where I come from. However, what I find, over time, is that in most respects my attitude towards Scripture becomes more conservative - but that is because I am more and more persuaded of the authority of the church community which gives to Scripture that authority. Yet my understanding of Scripture is inevitably mediated through all sorts of perspectives. When I say that I'm a bit wary of Marcus Borg, for example, I'm really saying that I find his perspective still driven by some academic concerns. In contrast, if I said I found Tom Wright's perspective congenial, I'm really saying something about him as much as about Scripture. I don't think it's possible to avoid this. Scripture isn't a neutral term and whilst I am as susceptible as anyone to an argument of 'Scripture says...' I don't think it's ultimately viable.

So far as I'm aware Scripture never says of itself that it is transparent and easily understood, whereas there is quite a lot in it to say that it is NOT transparent, and that discerning God is not a simple process. We are easily misled, mistaking doctrines of men for the Word of God, especially in the last few hundred years. I don't believe that Scripture is transparent in anything but the most trivial sense (ie we have an English translation, therefore we can read it), and I think the idea that it can be interpreted rightly by a solitary thinker is daft. We cannot escape the community of interpretation. So the questions of Scripture, wherever they come from, are really about which community you identify with. I will never know as much about the New Testament as Tom Wright - or Marcus Borg - but I don't think it's all that important. I am content to be part of a church which holds them in esteem. Ultimately I don't think the faith is about Scripture; it's about who Scripture testifies to. And as St Paul puts it 'I think I too have the mind of Christ'

Perhaps: this community's understanding of Scripture contains that which God is trying to teach me at this present time.

Stardust (Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess)


A marvellous fairy tale for adults. I've said it before, I know I'll say it again, the man is a genius. I like Charles Vess' art aswell.