Monday, February 28, 2011

Rob Bell's hell and the seriousness of life

LOVE WINS. from Rob Bell on Vimeo.

H/T Banksy. Major caveat - I haven't yet read the book, so this could be completely off-base, and I reserve the right to amend it if it needs to be!

First point: I became an atheist at the age of about 14 after a long conversation with a school friend about Gandhi, and whether he was going to hell or not. So I understand and accept the broad point being made, that our understandings of hell are often sub-Christian at best. However...

There is a way of understanding the heaven and hell conundrum called 'universalism', by which is meant the idea that, in the end, nobody escapes salvation. It was first proposed - I believe - by Origen in the second century. It was also fairly swiftly condemned as heretical - and I think it is right that universalism is condemned as heretical.

A Wittgenstein quote on the subject (from memory): "Of course it was condemned as heresy. If what we do now makes no difference in the end then all the seriousness of life is done away with." The seriousness of life - the idea that what we do makes a difference, for good or for evil. Without that dimension to life - what Wittgenstein called 'depth' in many other places - then something essential to our humanity is lost - after all, if nothing that we do makes any difference, then what is the point of all this painful drama?

My worry about universalism is that it is a form of political correctness applied to God - heaven is a multicultural wonderland where everyone is righteously right-on.

I hope Bell isn't going to come out as a universalist. I've rather liked his stuff hitherto.

For what it's worth, some of the best stuff I've read about hell in recent years has come from the wonderful writings of James Alison, and this sums it up:

"The commonly held understanding of hell remains trapped within the apocalyptic imagination, that is, it is the result of a violent separation between the good and the evil worked by a vengeful god. It seems to me that if hell is understood thus, we have quite simply not understood the Christian faith..."
There is no wrath in God...

Blessing a processional cross

Something I had to do at short notice on Sunday, and this was what I scribbled on the back of the envelope:

Holy Father,
it is through his death on the cross that your Son leads us into life;
we ask you to bless this cross (+) that we who lift it high and follow it
may be inspired and encouraged by his example
and enabled by grace to walk in his footsteps;
this we ask, in the name of Christ our Lord. Amen

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Inception, and other film notes

Watched Inception again last night, and enjoyed it, but... here are some good articles about it:
17 criticisms of Inception
A Q&A with Nolan
A comparison with Tarkovsky's Solaris

This month I've also watched:
Batman Begins and The Dark Knight back to back - just because I could :)
Alpha Dog - a banal film about the banality of evil, 3/5
The Illusionist - well put together 3/5
Laurel Canyon - a little bit of 'so what?' 3/5
The Way of the Dragon - more Bruce Lee nostalgia 3/5
Hot-tub Time Machine - funny 4/5
Primer - too intellectual for my tastes 3/5
Dog Soldiers - Brilliant! 5/5
The Killer Inside Me - misogynistic twaddle 3/5
True Grit (original) - John Wayne nostalgia! 4/5
From Paris with Love - excellent chemistry between two leads; plot was meretricious twaddle 3/5
Jonah Hex - garbage 2.5/5
The Switch - amusing, twee, could have been a much more adventurous and spiky film 3/5
No Impact Man - see this which prompted me to watch it 3/5 (as a film)
The Ghost - very good, although, having read the book, I knew what was coming 4/5

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A flavour of Cafe Musica

We launched our Appeal on February 14th with a concert given by Banksy and the Artist, which raised over £600 - and was very enjoyable. I recorded another song but can't seem to now connect my phone to my PC...

BTW see also Banksy's latest rant about music here.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Another music meme - but this one is easy

Graham tagged me with this one, simply 'your best contemporary worship song ever'. I don't know about the 'ever' part, but this is my answer:

(A video I made a few years back, using some of my beach photos). Very singable, sound theology, lots of personal meaning from the symbolism... what's not to like?

Some brief guidance for intercessors

With a large tip of the hat to Doug, whose 'Leading Common Worship Intercessions' was invaluable.

Firstly, my thanks to you for agreeing to take on this ministry. Prayer is probably the most important element of Christian life as it is the foundation for everything else that we do, and intercessions – which are all about enabling people to pray – are a central element of our gathered worship. So herewith some hints and tips for how to lead intercessions.

Most important, expanding on the above because it is worth emphasising, is this: intercessions are about leading people in prayer, not praying in front of other people. The intercessor must therefore always have in mind the effect that what they say will have on people who are engaged in addressing themselves to God. Anything which distracts the person praying from that process is therefore a mistake. Here are some examples:
  • providing new information, or even giving too much information at all! The intercessions are not the notices, nor are they a television news bulletin;
  • nor are the intercessions a sermon, a place to engage in argument, or even a place to give views – praying for the situation in the Middle East is fine, praying for the Israelis (or Palestinians) to stop being such evil people – this is not fine;
  • if you are quoting a prayer by a famous saint, you don't need to give acknowledgements – simply say the prayer in the way that it was intended;
  • being too long or too wordy, so that the people praying end up thinking about the intercessor rather than about God – keep things as simple as possible. As a general rule ten seconds of silence is more effective than a hundred words;
  • using a complex response which people find difficult to join in with.

So if these are things to avoid, what are the things to do? Firstly, remember that we do not know how to pray, but the Spirit prays through us – in other words, our task is to join in with something that is already going on, that has been going on for thousands of years. When we pray we are jumping into a stream that is already flowing, we don't need to initiate the process. When we pray we are standing on the shoulders of giants.

If you are due to lead the intercessions, take some time to look at the readings set for the day, most especially the gospel lesson, and see if you are inspired to touch on particular themes (and trust your inspiration). Look at the prayer list in the black folder; I would not recommend reading out all the names left on the cross in the porch, but reading out all the names in our community who need praying for (the second list) is good. Catch the news headlines from the day before to see if there are any topical worldly issues that people may wish to bring before God.

Classic patterns (full texts available from Sam)
A five-fold pattern: Church, world, local community, the sick, the dead.
A three-fold pattern: world, church, individuals.
(These are addressed to God)
Bidding prayers (eg 9 Lessons, Good Friday) – these are addressed to the congregation, who pray in the silence and response.
Patterns can be used as a platform from which to jump off creatively, eg to include sung responses.

Suggested reading:
Leading Common Worship Intercessions, Doug Chaplin
Leading Intercessions, Raymond Chapman

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A prayer before driving

Holy Father,
I place myself into your hands as I begin this journey;
I ask that your Spirit might help me maintain a trust and serenity throughout my journey so that, when I arrive, I might be a source of peace and good will to those whom I meet;
I ask you to help me hold in mind all the many things that I have no control over, especially how long it will take me to reach my destination;
most of all, I ask that you will keep me [and those with me] safe, and that I cause no suffering to those who share the road with me;
This I ask, in the name of Christ my Lord. Amen.

(Something I've been thinking about since preaching this sermon on Sunday, and since all my family have just gone away on a long journey!)

Monday, February 07, 2011

What will enable this congregation to worship?

Musing on the various hymn/music memes going round, and pondering a way of gathering several thoughts and threads together. The question I want to ask is: what will enable this congregation to worship? The three parts each carry weight:

- what will enable - this is the end purpose in the choice of music (as of other elements) in a service. Will this get in the way, or will it allow those present to engage?

- this congregation - not congregations in general, not other congregations attending at other times of day, or times past or future, but this congregation here and now

- to worship - not be entertained or intellectually stimulated, have prejudices pandered to or preconceptions picked apart, but worship - to come into the presence of the living God in spirit and in truth, in adoration and thanksgiving.

So - a question, not an answer, but I think it's a good question.

Another hymn meme, and some more good thoughts on music

We care so much about music in worship - and we care because it matters.

Some good thoughts from Tim here, and the Artsy Honker here, and I am shamelessly stealing this CS Lewis quote from the latter, which I love:

"There are two musical situations on which I think we can be confident that a blessing rests. One is where a priest or an organist, himself a man of trained and delicate taste, humbly and charitably sacrifices his own (aesthetically right) desires and gives the people humbler and coarser fare than he would wish, in a belief (even, as it may be, the erroneous belief) that he can thus bring them to God.

"The other is where the stupid and unmusical layman humbly and patiently, and above all silently, listens to music which he cannot, or cannot fully, appreciate, in the belief that it somehow glorifies God, and that if it does not edify him this must be his own defect. Neither such a High Brow nor such a Low Brow can be far out of the way. To both, Church Music will have been a means of grace; not the music they have liked, but the music they have disliked. They have both offered, sacrificed, their taste in the fullest sense.

"But where the opposite situation arises, where the musician is filled with the pride of skill or the virus of emulation and looks with contempt on the unappreciative congregation, or where the unmusical, complacently entrenched in their own ignorance and conservatism, look with the restless and resentful hostility of an inferiority complex on all who would try to improve their taste – there, we may be sure, all that both offer is unblessed and the spirit that moves them is not the Holy Ghost."

My musical thought for the day: mindless and emotive worship music is popular (in some circles) because it is a corrective to the excessive rationalism promoted (in some circles) by our culture. It might explain the apparent paradox of brilliant IT nerds enjoying near-fundamentalist churches - it brings balance to their force ;)

Here’s the meme, again from Doug, who won't let me escape...

1. Choose a hymn that you love to hate. It must be in a widely used and current hymn-book.
2. Say why.
3. Tag three people.

An honest answer would be 'All Things Bright and Beautiful' but I think that would be too easy. So a possibly controversial one:

1. Make me a channel of your peace.
2. A good prayer set to a difficult tune which is often murdered by a congregation that is unfamiliar with it. What makes it worse is that it is quite often chosen for funerals because people have been exposed to a good performance by a pop star (eg here) and the sentimental level is pushed up to 11. Blech.
3. I tag: Byron, Cranmer and Dave W.

Friday, February 04, 2011

The appalling CCM songs meme

This is via Doug: "Please try to name ONE (I know, there are so many to choose from) CCM praise song that you find unbearable and at least 2-3 reasons why, pointing to specific lyrics if you must."

I plead ignorance of the field!

So I cheat, tag Banksy and say that I'll agree with whatever he chooses :)

I also tag Joe , Jon and Phil.


I've put up a longish Palin post at Gandalf's Hope.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Two predictions for The Dark Knight Rises

(Originally posted as a comment at Doug's place, but I thought worth keeping for posterity!)

One of the rules of thumb for comics writers taking on one of the main established characters – eg Grant Morrison’s recent stuff – is that ‘do what you like but leave it how you found it’, in other words, you can have all sorts of fun taking the characters different places, and thereby exploring the character itself, but you have to leave it in a fit state for the next writer or user.

I have two suspicions about what Nolan is going to do with his final Batfilm:
1. the ‘rises’ bit is going to be a ‘resurrection’, ie Bane will do the Bane thing and defeat Batman. This will have the effect of bringing Gotham to its senses and realising that it does actually _want_ Batman – remember the ending of Dark Knight has Batman as a fugitive. So Batman will come back in the last third of the film, beat Bane, and the new status quo will be the ‘normal’ Batman universe.

2. Building on that, Nolan is going to put in place several ‘seeds’ which other people can take forward. So Hathaway is Selina Kyle, Gordon-Levitt is a proto-Robin, but I would guess we see neither in costume in the next film, there will just be lots of geek intimations for you and me to enjoy ;o) Could be completely wrong of course.