Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Gratuitous TBTE, with links

Taken last week. Time to catch up on some links that I've found interesting:

The Velvet Reformation, about Rowan.
Related: Why Christians should support gay marriage.
Rowan's speech on the environment, which I don't think I agreed with but need to do a more detailed analysis, hopefully before the eschaton.
A strong family and a small state belong together.
The financial crisis does have a conservative solution.
After capitalism.
A defence of Pope Benedict on contraception.
There is no rise in sea levels.
One of the very clever people who are sceptical of AGW.
A farm for the future.
Scientist contracts Ebola.
And finally a story that put a smile on my face: the Lego renaissance.

40FP(17): Jeremiah 20.7-9

7 O Lord, you have enticed me, and I was enticed;
you have overpowered me, and you have prevailed.
I have become a laughing-stock all day long; everyone mocks me.
8 For whenever I speak, I must cry out, I must shout, ‘Violence and destruction!’
For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long.
9 If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name’,
then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones;
I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.

Why is this a favourite passage?
Simply because I identify with it so strongly! The English translations tend to minimise the shocking language being used here - I understand that the language is actually that used to describe seduction and rape, a complete overpowering of the person's own choices. That is certainly how I experienced my own vocation. It becomes a compulsion - a word that must be spoken, that fidgets under the skin until it is released; and then, when it is, the world mocks (and I end up being known as the Vicar who hates Tesco, or - and this is more accurate - the one who is worried about Peak Oil and all that it implies). Which is fair enough, you don't become a clergyman unless you are prepared to put up with being a figure of ridicule. It just means that passages like this one speak directly to how I experience God and my present condition - and that's why it's a favourite passage.

40FP(16): Psalm 127

I'm way behind with these!

1 Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.
2 In vain you rise early and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat— for he grants sleep to those he loves.

3 Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him.
4 Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one's youth.
5 Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.
They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate.

Why is this a favourite passage?
Although the second half of the psalm might seem to run against it, I see this as one of the most explicit and practical psalms describing what it means to trust in God. The first two clauses emphasise a common Psalmic theme of trusting only in God rather than our own strength (or the strength of a horse, or princes or anything else). This is the practical outworking of idolatry - whenever we put our final trust in something other than God it ends up not just failing but betraying that trust. The next clause is one that challenges me often when we read this psalm in the Daily Office, and it is a more personal attack on idolatry - the idolatry of autonomy (a very common one today). Those who believe in God need to allow him to be God, to actually be in charge of heaven and earth - and therefore believers need to worry less (as Jesus taught).

The Psalm then seems to change gear with its recommendation of having children young, with the very practical consequence of having able bodied men to support you if - as a middle aged man - you end up in an argument 'at the gate'. I can recognise the practicality of this, but how it links with the foregoing is not yet clear to me.

Great psalm though.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Friday, March 27, 2009

An entertaining 20 seconds away from work

Stephen Fry's take on modern theology

"God once had Bach and Michelangelo on his side, he had Mozart, and now who does he have? People with ginger whiskers and tinted spectacles who reduce the glories of theology to a kind of 'sharing'... that's what religion has become, a feeble and anaemic nonsense."

I got sent this link by e-mail a couple of weeks ago, but have only now managed to actually listen to it. Good stuff, and certainly something which believers need to ponder.

Says the priest with ginger whiskers :o)

Thursday, March 26, 2009


I'm more exhausted than I've been for a long time. Not the best condition at the end of a day off! Meh. I'm going to bed.


.pdf warning!
Manning the barricades - the political consequences of the economic crisis.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

"So I said to Gordon Brown..."

I was at Uni with Daniel, tho' I doubt he remembers me. He hasn't changed his political stance these last twenty years, and I thought this was rather effective.

UPDATE: apparently this is the most viewed YouTube video today!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Alien v Predator: Requiem

Mind-numbingly awful - it takes a lot to make me fast-forward through a film but this definitely had what it takes: incoherent, confusing, pointless, misanthropic, lacking any sense of narrative. Possibly the worst-directed film I've ever had the misfortune to sit through. NB I watched this a few weeks ago and forgot to post the review. Can't think why.


The economic crisis isn't about money, it's about power. (H/T James)

Not a TBTM

I've been shockingly busy for the last few days, and am now exhausted, so I'm drawing stumps and giving up work for a bit. Which means a bit more blogging. Took this photo a few mornings ago.

Today's link: The Death of Protestant America: A Political Theory of the Protestant Mainline

Sunday, March 22, 2009


A valiant attempt; whilst, inevitably, not as good as the book, I think it will hold up over time. I look forward to purchasing the extended cut DVD, and The Tales of the Black Freighter, which was cut completely. But if you haven't read the book, please do so.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


The death of newspapers.

(Forgot to post this this morning!)

40FP(15): Romans 8.13-19

13 If you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.
15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’
16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God,
17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ — if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.
19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.

Why is this a favourite passage?
Romans 8 has all sorts of wonderful things within it, not least the conclusion, but this passage has probably exercised a hold on me longer than anything else that Paul wrote.

V13: I don't read this in a gnostic fashion, whereby anything physical is suspect, and only the ethereal/spiritual/mental is good. I read it (and I think what Paul had in mind was) that our appetites need to be structured around a higher good, and suborned to that higher good, not that the appetites are in themselves sinful. This I see as a call to live with integrity - to bring our lives into an order structured by what we most desire, which, in Augustinian fashion, I see as the love of God.
V14: A manifesto claim: those in whom God lives are his children, and there are certain rights and duties consequent to that fact.
V15: Unpacking things further, being a child of God means that we are not to be afraid of God - our relationship to God is not that of quivering supplicant to violent dictator, rather it is that of beloved child to affirming parent, one who delights in our very existence. So much spiritual energy is wasted trying to please - appease - the monster, when the monster doesn't exist. To be a child of God is to realise that God is on our side and likes us. Hence the 'Abba' ("Daddy").
V16 & 17: When we gain the confidence to treat with God in this way, leaving the fear aside and embracing the love, this is the Spirit working within us. The world being what it is, walking freely with the Lord is liable to get us crucified - but our sufferings that follow from this are what show us sharing in Christ's life, and being his brothers and fellow heirs to the Kingdom.
V18: This world is broken both in human relationships and between humans and the environment and we suffer as a result. Yet the Spirit is the assurance that the suffering does not have the final word: one day things will be put right.
V19: The eventual restoration is cosmic; it is not a privatised accounting of moral failure, it is a renewal of earth and heaven. Humanity has its place within creation as God's children playing in the Garden and not only do we as human beings suffer because of our sin, so too does the rest of creation. As we enter into the life of Christ and the Spirit breathes through us, the creation is healed through our activity - that is our purpose on this earth, to tend the garden. So the creation is waiting for us to enter into our inheritance - a marvellous image.

40FP(14): Psalm 1

1 Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.
2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.
3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.
4 Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
6 For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

Why is this a favourite passage?
The Psalms are wonderful, and this is the first of the psalms - if not pride of place, certainly a prominent place. It sets out two paths - those things which are not to be done, and those things which are to be done. More than this, it sets out the consequences - if we walk in the way of the Lord, pondering his Law (which is one particular embodiment of the Word) then we shall prosper. Obviously there are lots of caveats and explanations needed to put flesh on those stark bones, but here it is portrayed very simply. If we cleave to the Lord, then we gain life.

Remembering John Galt

Pondering two things: 1. that it's the middle classes who are going to suffer the most in this economic downturn, ie all those whose wealth is primarily based on paper/electronic memory. Those who have actual title to land, and those who have marketable (practical) skills, will get through. 2. Those middle classes have not just not (necessarily) done anything wrong, they will, in fact, often be those who have actually done things 'right' - they are the ones who have saved/ got proper mortgages/ invested 'wisely' - been virtuous - and so on. So there will be rather a lot of righteous anger coming from that quarter before too long (weren't these the people that voted for the NSDAP?)

But that also got me reflecting on a scene from Atlas Shrugged - a profoundly flawed book, but fascinating and not without insight - when the authorities have come to John Galt to force him to rescue the system. They rig him to an electrical generator in order to torture him, but when it fails Galt is the only person who can repair it...

Rorschach: "The world will look up and shout 'Save us!' And I'll whisper 'No'."

Charlie Wilson's War

One of those films that had nothing wrong with it, but didn't end up achieving anything. First class travel on autopilot. 3/5

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Extreme shepherding

Well worth less than 3 minutes of your time:

(H/T Topless Robot)


Is BSG better than The Wire?

I don't know many people who've been watching BSG, which is about to come to an end (I watched part 1 of the finale last night, courtesy of Sky+) but lots of people have recommended the Wire to me. I think that in a hundred years* people will be studying these DVD sets in the same way that students now work through Dickens. This book has much of relevance to say about it.

I'm sure I will watch The Wire - but I have to get through my Christmas present of the complete West Wing before I do. (And James, I'll make sure I watch To Kill a Mockingbird some time soon, as well as the others on that list!)

*Assuming we have some record of them - see here.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Brave One

I thought this was an excellent film, well directed and anchored with a remarkable performance from Jodie Foster - but it was strange to have watched this after having watched Gran Torino, which explored similar themes, but was more orthodox. Well worth seeing.


'Consciousness signature' discovered spanning the brain.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Vocal range

Just discovered, thanks to the help of my much better half, that I have a vocal range that runs from the F two octaves below middle C up to the G two octaves above middle C (ie 3 octaves). I should emphasise that I wouldn't want to sing something using all of that - my "comfortable" range is probably less than two octaves - but it reinforces something a singing tutor once said to me - I've got a powerful instrument, I just need to learn how to use it properly. Definitely something to pursue.

Evangelicals and the Bible

Just been reading two assessment reports, of Wycliffe Hall and St Stephen's House in Oxford (both theological colleges = seminaries in US speak). Lots of interesting stuff in them, but I had to laugh when it was pointed out that the evangelical college was deficient in its use of the Bible in worship! A trend that I'm coming to associate with evangelical styles.

This is the relevant paragraph in full:

"We were also surprised at the very limited amount of biblical material in the daily
services. A psalm is required to be used on Monday mornings, and a psalm was
said on one other day. A short reading from the New Testament is recommended
on three mornings, and a short reading from the Old Testament on two mornings.
The Hall lectionary provides for reading ‘the whole range of biblical literature’
over a four year cycle on three mornings a week for 32 weeks of the year. However,
no student spends four years in the Hall, and such an arrangement does not
encourage students to read the Bible themselves ‘in course’ on days when there is
no corporate worship in chapel. Therefore we do not think that this practice is
consistent with the Anglican tradition of reading the psalms and the greater part of
the Old Testament and all the New Testament, in course, during the calendar year.
This is intended to immerse the Church’s ministers, and the laity, in Scripture, and
thereby to familiarise them with the great sweep and variety of salvation history
and literature in the Old Testament, and with all the gospels and letters and the
Revelation to John in the New Testament. Attention should be paid to providing
more extensive use of the psalms, and the biblical canticles, which praise and
thank God for his intervention in his world in the incarnation of his son, Jesus
Christ, for the salvation of his creation; and for publicly reading the Old and New
Testaments in course."

Quite so.

Idolatry and Abortion

I've been pondering that case in Brazil where the RC church has excommunicated a nine-year old girl, her family and doctors, for having an abortion, yet has not excommunicated the person who did the evil deed itself. I think this is a good example of idolatry, and I want to unpack why as it may help to explain what I mean by idolatry (and also, for atheists, what I mean when I say that God is not a member of a set - an explanation which, whilst technically correct, ends up misleading, so I might abandon it.)

In Scriptural terms, we are called to love God with all our mind, soul, heart and strength - in other words, we must put God above all other things, we are not allowed to compromise with God.

This means that nothing else can be given the authority or perfection which belongs to God alone - not Scripture, not religious custom, not ethical principle. Nothing which can be described in human language is beyond being relativised by the fundamental command that we are to have no other gods but the one God. Furthermore we are to know this God, and the nature of this God, in order to carry out his will faithfully (that's what Scripture is about).

Using slightly more philosophical language, the teaching is that God is the only Absolute - and nothing else is allowed to become an absolute, for if it does, it usurps the place of God and becomes an idol.

In this instance, the principle of 'no abortion ever' has been made into an Absolute, and the suffering which will ensue on the child, the child's family, the doctors involved, and any future situations where a child dies from being prevented from having an abortion - this suffering is the consequence of idolatry. The teaching has been made into a rigid rule that is required to apply in any and all circumstances, no matter what the specifics of the situation. Morality and judgement become a technique rather than something involving the application of human feeling - and the absence of human feeling is one of the key signs that idolatry is present, for it is only human feeling, empathy and compassion, that can lead us rightly to God; it is these things which allow us to know what his 'way' actually is.

Note that calling this idolatry does NOT mean that the abortion is morally right in any 'pure' sense. What the idolatry in this case involves is an abandonment of the messiness of human life, the recognition that, in our fallen world, there are no morally pure, morally righteous alternatives. There are only choices between evils. Idolatry means that, in order to avoid one evil, a different evil is committed - and the idolatry blinds the idol-worshipper to the nature of that different evil.

In this case the lesser evil is the abortion - calling it a lesser evil acknowledges that it is still an evil - and the choice to never share in that evil has consequences that are a greater evil.

This is the sort of situation that I think Jesus had in mind with the story of the Good Samaritan. People are following religious precepts - they think that they are doing the right thing - yet their hearts have been hardened against compassion, and so they fail to do the Father's will. Consequently, those who have chosen this idolatrous path are liable to damnation for it.

6 Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker;
7 for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care. Today, if you hear his voice,
8 do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the desert,
9 where your fathers tested and tried me, though they had seen what I did.
10 For forty years I was angry with that generation; I said, "They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known my ways."
11 So I declared on oath in my anger, "They shall never enter my rest."
(from Psalm 95)

40FP(13): Matthew 25.31-46

As I'm on a roll with this theme....

31 ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.
32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats,
33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.
34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;
35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
37 Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?
38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?
39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?”
40 And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels;
42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,
43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.”
44 Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?”
45 Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”
46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’

Why is this a favourite passage?
This summarises some of the principal themes which I take from my reading of Scripture, and I see it as a summation of the message of the Old Testament: it's not about what you call Jesus, it's about how you live, and in the end we will be judged on how we have lived - this is simply what it means to be righteous. As it happens, I don't think this completely undermines the priority of grace, nor does it render faith irrelevant, but I'll save the explanation of that for another post.

40FP(12): James 2.14-26

This is a text I refer to, more or less explicitly, on a regular basis (from the NRSV this time)

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you?
15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food,
16 and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?
17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
18 But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith without works, and I by my works will show you my faith.
19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe — and shudder.
20 Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith without works is barren?
21 Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?
22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works.
23 Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness’, and he was called the friend of God.
24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.
25 Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road?
26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.

Why is this a favourite passage?
The short answer is that it is a key text preventing 'faith' from turning into an idol. A faith which does not bear fruit in good work is a meaningless faith - practice gives the words their sense, to use Wittgenstein's pithy aphorism. So often religious debate gets tangled up in words when ultimately it is not the words that are important. Nor, ultimately, is it a question of beliefs about matters of fact - even the demons believe! - but only of beliefs which guide our actions. A belief which has no consequence for how we live is completely irrelevant, it is simply decoration upon our mental furniture. Verse 24 is a particularly entertaining one to quote when in discussion with extreme Protestants! (It is why Luther wanted this taken out of the Bible, and called it an 'Epistle of Straw'.)

40FP(11): Luke 10.25-37

Text from the New Living Translation

25 One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”
27 The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
28 “Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!”
29 The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling on a trip from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road.
31 “By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by.
32 A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side.
33 “Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him.
34 Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him.
35 The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’
36 “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked.
37 The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”

Why is this a favourite passage?
It's quite a familiar passage, but what I want to draw out are two points.

The first is to note that Jesus doesn't challenge the grammar of the request, rather he accepts it and builds on it. In other words, Jesus accepts that salvation is a doing (or, it necessarily involves a doing) and the notion of 'belief' isn't raised. Jesus could have said, in response to the initial question, something like 'believe in me as your personal Lord and Saviour' - but he doesn't, and I find that both significant and reassuring.

The second point to emphasise is that the story isn't really about reaching beyond ethnic boundaries, it's about abandoning religious boundaries. The Priest and the Temple Assistant are both following the regulations for their conduct, because if they were to help the wounded man then they would then be rendered unclean and unfit for their religious duties. Whereas the Samaritan - off the scale in terms of being religiously 'unrighteous' - is the one who actually does the Father's will by showing mercy and compassion.

So: a key text for me.


Obama vs Marx
(See Al, I can put up nice links about Obama too!)
In fact, as it's St Patrick's Day, how about this:

There's actually a better video than that somewhere, but it seems to have been taken off YouTube.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Friday, March 13, 2009

40FP(10): Galatians 3.26-28

More manifesto material:

26 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus,
27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Why is this a favourite passage?
Well, the theme of 'children of God' is a major one for me, and will be reflected here in due course, but the key to this passage for me comes in two things: first, the identity of a Christian is found through their faith and baptism (leaving aside the link between those things for another day). Secondly, this identity supersedes all other identities; here, in particular, it is made explicit that this new identity overcomes previous divisions based upon gender, race and economic status. Christians are called to form a new community, based around our faith and baptism. To place a criterion of identity above that of baptism is, effectively, to excommunicate. This is just one of the reasons why I have great trouble with much of the homophobic criticism coming out of places like GAFCON - their entire activity is premised on a rejection of baptised brothers and sisters - they assume their conclusion before the intra-family dialogue can begin. Similarly, the rejection of mainstream baptismal practices by a small minority of churches (eg in favour of some sort of mental-assent theory of faith) destroys the foundation of Christian unity. It is also where my acceptance of just-war theory has undergone the biggest modification since I started writing this blog - I'm not sure it is ever legitimate (in Christian terms) for one Christian to kill another. The ramifications of that I'm still exploring!

For those who have faith in Christ, who have been baptised into the Body, their sense of identity as Christians trumps all other claims. This is radically important.


Capitalism beyond the crisis.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Mersea Island Round the Island Race 2008

Finally got around to processing these photos from last summer. More on my Flickr page - I'll probably stick them up on Facebook too.


Rowan's lecture on the economy.

Wall-E reimagined

40FP(9): 1 Kings 2.1-3

A simple text today:

1 When the time drew near for David to die, he gave a charge to Solomon his son.
2 "I am about to go the way of all the earth," he said. "So be strong, show yourself a man,
3 and observe what the LORD your God requires: Walk in his ways, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and requirements, as written in the Law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go."

Why is this a favourite passage?
Well, I think they count as 'famous last words', even though many people will be unfamiliar with them. It's a story that grips my imagination, all the more since my own father died and there weren't any 'last words'! It maintains the theme of doing God's will, and summarises the OT link between obedience and prosperity. It's just a wonderful passage.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Obama DVD list

Has been turned into a meme - which do you own/have seen/not seen

The Godfather
Raging Bull
Lawrence of Arabia
The Wizard of Oz
The Searchers
Star Wars: Episode IV
2001: A Space Odyssey
It’s a Wonderful Life

Citizen Kane (a very long time ago and I need to rewatch it)
Singin’ in the Rain
Schindler’s List
The Graduate
On the Waterfront
Some Like it Hot
ET: The Extra-Terrestrial

Not seen:
Gone with the Wind
City Lights
Sunset Boulevard
The General
The Grapes of Wrath
To Kill a Mockingbird

Some vintage Jon Stewart

40FP(8): John 6.66-68

I'll return to John 6 later in the sequence - possibly more than once - but we had these this morning, and I'm slipping behind due to pressure of work! (I hope to return to Stark tomorrow as well)

66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
67 You do not want to leave too, do you? Jesus asked the Twelve.
68 Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.

Why is this a favourite passage?

Verse 66: I find this an incredibly poignant verse. People who had been following Jesus, who had seen the signs he has performed, now abandon the way because the teaching had become too hard to absorb - the teaching about the Eucharist (on which more another time, but see here).
Verse 67: more poignancy, and here it is essential that we hold on to the humanity of Jesus, rather than simply reading it as a divine challenge, otherwise the implicit loneliness is lost (the loneliness will come, but not yet).
Verse 68: those who remain, who have accepted the teaching and entered into the life, recognise Jesus for who he is and what he conveys. This is one of several basic Christian confessions in Scripture, but in my view, one of the best.


The principal reason why I think global warming is overblown as a problem.
(In other words this is a link to an article the main substance of which I do agree with!)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Obama's 10 biggest mistakes so far.

A possibly profane and heretical analogy

I was musing about names, and whether there could be salvation by any other name than Jesus - and an image came to mind.

I've been wanting to talk about Jesus as 'way, truth and life' in a fundamental sense, but wanting to sit lightly to the name itself (given my interpretation of the Mt 7 passage).

So I was thinking about doors - that Jesus is the door frame, the space through which we can come.

And I was thinking about the sign on the door not mattering very much - can be different according to who you are.

And then I thought about public lavatories, with their different signs - appropriate to our own natures - but equivalent destinations.

'Come to me all you who labour and are heavy burdened, and I shall give you rest..."


A dull grey morning; bit disappointing after the bright blue of the last few.

Today's link: "Where were these people during the last 8 years of Bush misrule?"

The Roman Catholic church is bonkers

See here.

(Initial H/T to Ruthie, but I see that James has picked up on it too.)

The initial abortion seems one of the defensible sort to me - and it's not 100% bonkers to say that it is wrong. What is 100% bonkers is excommunicating a suffering family and saying that the rapist's offence wasn't as bad.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Living the language of love (a sermon)

Have you decided to give something up for Lent? Imagine giving up chocolate - then going to a meal with someone - and then the after dinner mints get passed around - and the host says "go on, just one, doesn't make much difference...." Your host is Satan!! At least, that's the conclusion I draw from this morning's gospel (Mk 8.31-end)

What we have here is an example of social pressure - and this is Satan, for this is what Jesus is resisting. Consider that Satan is the accuser, the prosecuting lawyer in a court case; he is also described as being the prince of this world, you could say that he holds sway over the court of public opinion. And sometimes the pressures of public opinion can be severe - if you stick out then the finger will point at you; it can be much safer to go with the flow and keep your head down. Jesus criticises Peter for confusing the things of God and the things of man - it is the latter where the Satan holds sway.

Social pressure has ways of disguising itself, and is often couched in the language of 'should' and 'ought' (and even 'you should be ashamed of yourself'). I want to suggest that we need to exercise a Godly suspicion when this language is used. Sometimes what is being recommended with a should or an ought is of God - eg, 'you should pray more' - but sometimes it isn't. I'd like to propose a way of discriminating between when the 'shoulds' are good, and when they are otherwise. The simple question is: can the 'should' thought be rephrased in terms of the great commandments?

The first and greatest commandment is to love God, to love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind and all our strength. This comes first and is the most important command. I see it as intimately bound up with vocation, the sense of who we are before God and who God is calling us to become.

And the second command is alike, namely this: we must love our neighbours as ourselves; in other words we are called to share the love of god with each other, to look after each other and care for each other, to nurture each other and forgive each other - so that all might enjoy the life that God intends for us.

Let me give you two examples which may make things clearer. Imagine a musician, say a teenager, being exhorted to practice his instrument by his parents. Perhaps it was an expensive instrument and the parents say 'we've spent so much on your music lessons you should be doing more with it'. Contrast this with the thought: 'I have a gift from God and it fills me with joy to play my instrument - I am more myself when I am playing than when I'm not'. Both forms of language might lead to the teenager playing the instrument, but only one is inspired by love.

On the latest U2 album there is a marvellous song which contains the words (it's effectively a song of praise addressed to God) "I was born to sing for you". When Bono is singing that he is expressing his vocation, he is being the person God has called him to be. My point is that if we can't rephrase the 'should' into something which inspires and enables life then it is just social pressure and is Satanic.

A second example: imagine a middle daughter who has taken on the principal burden of caring for an elderly aunt despite having other siblings equally connected. And the request comes in to go and visit to do her shopping. Is this a 'should'? "You ought to go and do it because if you don't nobody else will"? Or is it actually "I love my aunt Nellie, I enjoy seeing her and I don't want her to experience hardship." If we can rephrase the 'ought' into something that allows us to experience the joy of loving someone else, the joy of caring for someone else, enabling them to life and to flourish - then it is godly; but if not, it is just social pressure, and, worse, it opens up scope for being abused.

So this is the challenge: to rephrase 'should' and 'ought' into the language of love. In part it is about examining our motivations: am I pursuing this course of action because it is loving, or am I simply giving in to being pestered? or to gain approval? or because I'm afraid of disapproval? The core questions we must explore are: is this enabling me to become the person that God is loving me into being? Is this enabling me to share the love of God with someone that I love? and, if we're really saintly - can the boundaries of my loving be broken down just a little bit more so that I can love more widely than I have done as yet...?

Which brings us back to Jesus on the road to Jerusalem. I love this little verse 'he spoke plainly about this.' It's a strange thing to have in a written text which has just said pretty clearly what Jesus was saying. The passage only makes sense if you think of it as something spoken and written down; think of Peter sharing his memories with Mark and emphasising 'he spoke plainly about this'.

In the story - and it is something I'm sure Peter would have remembered painfully clearly - Peter is voicing social disapproval, but why is he doing this? Because to be killed by the authorities would, in worldly terms, show that Jesus was not from God - "cursed be he who hangs from the tree" (Deut). It would have been against Scripture!! We need to be aware that sometimes even the Bible can be used for worldly purposes, as it was, for example, when it was used by the Southern states to defend the institution of slavery. We need to read the Bible with the Holy Spirit by our side, and remember that the Holy Spirit is the defence counsel in the law case, he is there to defend us and we can leave the arguments about social pressure to him. If we are following God then the Spirit will be with us, and we don't have to worry about defending ourselves in terms of public opinion.

Which must have been a comfort to Christ at this time, when he was preparing to take up his cross - and what does the cross symbolise, this tree upon which he was hung that, in Paul's words, allowed Christ to become a curse for us? What does it mean for us to take up our cross? It means that, if we follow those two commands, if we abandon the language of 'should' and 'ought' and start to live the language of love; if we allow the love of God to shape us and enable us to share that love in the world - then we will come into conflict with the world. We will become light shining in the darkness and those that cling to the darkness will resist. Then, the form that the resistance to us takes, when we are pursuing the will of God in our lives, that is the shape of our cross. And we must each take up our own cross in this life.

Sometimes clinging to the darkness can seem the most righteous thing: it is what we should be doing, it is what we ought to be doing. From our reading, "the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law", these were not rabidly evil people, as if, were we only to look clearly, we'd see the horns sprouting out of their heads. They were people like us; perhaps I should say they were people just like me, put into a position of religious authority and given responsibility for keeping the system going. I don't doubt that, at least for most of them, they felt that in opposing Jesus they were doing the right thing; "it is expedient that one man should die for the people".

Yet Jesus had this specific vocation, this claim upon him from the Father, which he never allowed to break. That is why he was without sin - sin is simply anything which breaks our relationship with the father, anything which disrupts our obedience to the first commandment - and Jesus never allowed that relationship to be broken. Jesus was true to his vocation to the bitter end. He could have gained the whole world, but the world would not have been enough. In the same way, each time that we give in to social pressure we lose a little bit of our souls - and what does it profit us if we gain the whole world but lose our own souls?

Jesus came to set us free, to become children of God. What this means is that we allow God to take charge of our lives, that we live as his children, as heirs of God and fellow-heirs with Christ. Then, if we walk in his path, we take up our cross and follow him - then we can share in his ultimate victory, and enjoy a risen life with Him.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

40FP(7): 1 Samuel 3.1-10

1 Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.
2 At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room;
3 the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was.
4 Then the Lord called, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’* and he said, ‘Here I am!’
5 and ran to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call; lie down again.’ So he went and lay down.
6 The Lord called again, ‘Samuel!’ Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call, my son; lie down again.’
7 Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.
8 The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy.
9 Therefore Eli said to Samuel, ‘Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” ’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
10 Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ And Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’

Why is this a favourite passage?
Does it need spelling out?

Kirk is Dexter!



I should confess that of the TV series I'm following at the moment (24, Lost, Sarah Connor, BSG - gah! - and Dex) - Dexter is the one I'm enjoying the most. Possibly because it is an enjoyable dissection and depiction of narcissism, which ties in with my therapy (grin).

Not a TBTM

I thought it was the one on the left.
(Let the reader understand ;-)

Thursday, March 05, 2009

What if all the alternatives fail?

First a good video which I originally watched at Justin's place, tho' it has done the rounds since then.

The Crisis of Credit Visualized from Jonathan Jarvis on Vimeo.

This post is really for Alex so that he can parade the size of his economic little finger (grin).

Some propositions for discussion:
a) the great majority of banks are radically insolvent;
b) the extent of the insolvency dwarfs the assets of the governing class (including nations);
c) all attempts to keep insolvent banks afloat will fail - the only question is about how much of our money is destroyed trying to keep them afloat;
d) the way things are going, the authorities will _probably_ end up inflating their way out of the crisis ('quantitative easing') - we'll have a deflationary moment and then a sustained period of inflation, which will lead to the middle classes being wiped out; those that survive will be those that have access to either land (including being mortgage-free) or tradable skills (and most white-collar skills are not tradable);
e) the attempt to keep things going is immoral as it punishes the virtuous and rewards the vicious;
f) the status quo ante is gone, vanished, kaput. It is Obama's failure to grapple with this - symbolised by his appointment of various corrupt and shady establishment figures - that is the most ominous thing in the world scene at the moment.

(Actually, that last is hyperbole. The implosion of Pakistan and the forthcoming implosion of Mexico are much more serious. I still think that the financial crisis is overemphasised!)

TPT20090305 (Sad dog)

Shot from inside James'n'Maggie's place.

From a Labour MP

Teenage girls shouldn’t be having underage sex. Why? Because it’s wrong.

Teenage girls shouldn’t choose to have babies as an alternative to getting an education and a career. Why? Because it’s wrong.

Parents shouldn’t teach their children that a lifetime on benefits is attractive or even acceptable. Why? Because it’s wrong.

(H/T Iain Dale)

40FP(6): Hosea 4.1-6

This needs to be from the RSV translation:

1 Hear the word of the Lord, O people of Israel; for the Lord has an indictment against the inhabitants of the land. There is no faithfulness or loyalty, and no knowledge of God in the land.
2 Swearing, lying, and murder, and stealing and adultery break out; bloodshed follows bloodshed.
3 Therefore the land mourns, and all who live in it languish; together with the wild animals and the birds of the air, even the fish of the sea are perishing.
4 Yet let no one contend, and let none accuse, for with you is my contention, O priest.
5 You shall stumble by day; the prophet also shall stumble with you by night, and I will destroy your mother.
6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.

Why is this a favourite passage?

I first discovered this text when I was an undergraduate, attending a lecture on Hosea, and I still use the Bible that I had that day where I marked the page 'eco'! It has become a text laden with personal meaning for me, which sums up my vocation, in so far as I can perceive it accurately.

Verses 1&2: in Scripture, so far as I can tell, there is a direct link between believing in God and behaving well - the two are different descriptions of the same thing, the life of righteousness. This is the context for the Psalmist saying 'The fool says in his heart there is no God' - he goes on to explain what is meant by this when he says that there is nobody who does good, no not one. To believe in God simply IS to be righteous; conversely where there is a lack of righteousness - swearing, lying, adultery etc - then the real knowledge of God is absent.
Verse 3: this failure of relationship, this breaking apart from God, manifests itself in global symptoms of disorder, especially ecological ones, building upon the human violence of the previous verse. This is how I see the ecological crisis we are living in (and where I have something in common with the more barking fundamentalist elements of pre-trib rapture in the US) in that I see the world as being in God's hands and not in ours. We are not able to put everything right with the world - but if we turn back to God, then God will put it right (the symptoms will be relieved).
Verse 4: the root of the problem lies with the religious class; they have failed in their duty to share the living faith, and have become distracted with the perks of the job (spelled out later on in Hosea 4). "With you is my contention O priest" - a totally different translation to the NIV and one that captures this intent. What the 'right' translation is I shall leave to those better qualified; from my point of view, though, this was the text as I originally discovered it, and it is this translation which sunk its claws into me.
Verses 5&6: the priestly class will share in the bad consequences that follow from falling away from God and living unrighteously. In particular they will be rejected as priests - presumably by God, but also, as I read it, by the people themselves. The people will turn away from the worldly priesthood, and will seek the living God wherever they can find him. This is how I interpret the decline in church attendance; Western Christianity in general, the Church of England in particular, has lost its way, has forgotten what it is here for, has been suborned by the worldly state, domesticated and castrated, kept on as a cute housepet that's useful for ornamental functions.

Woe to you O Christian!

Woe to you who seek the living God! - for you shall find Him!


"I also see a kind of religious aspect to the superhero, and to the supervillain as well. The former often comes by his or her powers through a miraculous "accident," and the force for good could be seen as plenitudinous grace of a kind, unlooked for."

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Gran Torino

Magnificent. 5/5
(For a few more words on why, see +Alan, although I think he misreads the confession scene.)

40FP(5): John 5.39-40

This came up in Morning Prayer today.

"You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life."

Why is this a favourite passage?

This is Jesus in argument with the Pharisees and other religious authorities (the 'Jews' in John) and I love these verses because it is an explicit statement by Jesus of the purpose of Scripture - that they point to Jesus himself, and that Jesus himself, as the living Word, is the source of life. The Scriptures only give life in so far as they mediate Him. This was the burden of my last Learning Supper talk when I argued that through Scripture there is an ongoing evolution in how "the Word of God" was understood, moving through at least five stages: i) prophetic inspiration; ii) the Law; iii) Scripture; iv) the Gospel (kerygma) and ultimately v) Jesus himself. So long as we keep Jesus as the summit we can interpret the others aright. When we distort that hierarchy, eg through pushing iii) to the top of the tree, then we end up missing the point. That is what Jesus is criticising: mistaking the finger for the moon.

A relevant quote from John Stott that I love:
Interviewer - You didn't mention the Bible, which would surprise some people.
John Stott - I did, actually, but you didn't notice it. I said Christ and the biblical witness to Christ. But the really distinctive emphasis is on Christ. I want to shift conviction from a book, if you like, to a person. As Jesus himself said, the Scriptures bear witness to me. Their main function is to witness to Christ.


One of the reasons why I have become more sceptical about the 'climate change consensus' is that the IPCC overestimates the extent of fossil fuel reserves. This is another item confirming that the amount of coal available is less than previously assumed (95% less in this case!).

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

40FP(4): Matthew 7.21

Continuing the theme of 'doing' from yesterday, a single verse from the Sermon on the Mount - which we will return to several times in this sequence!

"Not everyone who says to me 'Lord, Lord' will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in Heaven."

Why is this a favourite passage?

I love this verse because it stands over against the exclusivist emphasis that sometimes dominates Christian thinking, especially the ones which quote 'there is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved' - which might qualify as a least favourite verse! Jesus is explicit that the naming is not the essential thing; it is the doing which is essential. I believe that it is possible to do the will of God using all sorts of different religious languages - the different forms of Christian language, but also Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist etc. To say otherwise is, to my mind, to recklessly restrict God's gracious activity and borders on saying that there is a realm of creation from which God is absent. Which is bonkers.

Of course, if you want to know precisely what doing the will of the Father entails, please see the previous passage in this sequence!!

Monday, March 02, 2009

40FP(3): Micah 6:6-8

This should have been posted on Saturday - I'm behind already! - which means you might get another one this afternoon. Click 'full post' for text.

6 With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
8 He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Why is this a favourite passage?
I see this short passage as summarising the prophetic critique in the Old Testament. Roughly speaking (very roughly!) there is an ongoing dialogue in the OT between the voices of the established temple cult and the prophets who criticise the cult. There are some analogies with the arguments of the Reformation era, I see the prophets as being people who God raises up to say to the religious establishment 'You've missed the point!' This passage expresses the critique in a nutshell.
Verses 6 & 7a: simply remarking on what is laid down as requirements for a sin offering, setting the context for what follows.
Verse 7b: this is a text worth pondering (not least by those atheists who go on about the Abraham and Isaac story as evidence for God's abominability (if that's a usable word!)). The God revealed in the Old Testament is, so far as I can see, resolutely rejecting of child sacrifice - much more rejecting of it than the people themselves (eg Jephthah). All the present-day atheists are doing, here as so often elsewhere, is repeating, unacknowledged, the prophetic critique. I've often felt that the Bible is an anti-religious text; certainly Jesus is one of the most anti-religious characters ever known.
Verse 8: One of the best verses in Scripture: no complications, no distractions with doctrine - we have been shown the right way to live. That right way is active, it is about establishing a righteous environment (which always, in Scripture, means a bias to the poor, ensuring that the rich are not oppressive), later called 'the Kingdom' by Jesus. It also, necessarily, involves spiritual humility - we are called to cooperate in the process, not to try and achieve it in our own strength.

So here is another manifesto: don't think that following the religious cult is what God is seeking; it can become an end in itself and distorting of God's true intentions. What God is seeking is righteousness, and our principal spiritual task is to pursue it.

NB there is a good song using this text on this album.


Morph lives!