Sunday, April 24, 2011

4613

I have 4613 unread posts on my feed-reader (the Flock sidebar). I gave up my feed-reader, along with Twitter and Facebook, for Lent. My mind is boggled by how much stuff I was reading before! That's well over a hundred posts a day. It's been a good break - not a total break from reading every blog, just about 95% of them - although it would have been even better if life hadn't been so busy. Had the strangest holy week ever - but that is a story for another time.

4613!! (blooming 'eck, I didn't quite say)

UPDATE: I thought I'd say a bit more on this, following a Facebook question from Archdruid Eileen about how much time it takes up. Bear in mind that a) I read very fast, b) I skim-read vast swathes of posts and c) some of it I only access on my day off. So my concern about it wasn't about the amount of time it was taking up (maybe an hour a day) it was more about the 'crowding out' effect, which I mean in two senses. The first is that by consuming so much information, I wasn't digesting what I was reading, and I felt that this was unbalanced. The second, linked point is that the time that I was reading blogs was time that I wasn't reading books. In other words, I don't think that my time reading adjusted very much between discovering a feed-reader and not, it's just that what I was reading shifted - away from books and towards the internet. I feel that this is a lower quality diet, so I'm going to change my reading habits - and a great number of blogs (a lot of them church-related) I'm going to quietly drop...

Happy Easter!



Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Music in worship: consumption or conversation?

From the May 2011 edition of Third Way magazine:

"...I went on going to church and I think I had the same values, only no longer quite with belief behind them. I went on with church music, which I liked a lot. Religious music still moves me, in a way that I suppose it shouldn't, if you like. It's not something that a Christian would think of as religion, but it's a substitute." (Professor John Carey)

I think Professor Carey articulates something very important to understand: that it is possible to appreciate religious music (or art or whatever) in such a way as to gain some benefit from it, even spiritual benefit - but this is not the same as worship. I think I would want to describe the difference as being between a consumer of religiously flavoured produce and being engaged in a conversation with something other than our own desires and perspectives. It is the latter that counts as worship, not the former.

Seminary obituary?

Several people have linked to this interesting article, asking whether seminary education has a future. I haven't got time to write a full response - maybe after Easter - but I want to point out three sources of tension:

- there is a tension between forming priests and training theological academics. The latter has a part to play in the former but if the distinction is ever obscured then it is the training for the priesthood which comes off worse;

- there is a tension between academic theology and mystical theology, between an intellectual enterprise that can be pursued by people of any faith and of none, and the intellectual enterprise which is pursued within a self-reflective community of faith. It is essential for priests to be thoroughly trained in the latter, the former is much less essential;

- there is a tension between the residential formation of priests, allowing for the overview and shaping of a whole person, and the non-residential training of priests which, by default, must end up concentrating on what can be assessed at a distance. The latter is not the same as the former.

As with many things, I can't help but feel that the CofE suffers from confused thinking, backing into situations that it hasn't planned for and then becoming bewildered by the consequences.

More anon.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Poor Ollie


A few weeks ago Ollie managed to snap the cruciate ligament in his right knee, and had surgery to correct it. Unfortunately he then managed to tear the sutures inside the wound, which meant that his kneecap started wandering around. He had a second operation last Friday to correct this, and has since been in this heavy bandage and confined, not just to the house, but often to a cage in my study, to inhibit exercise. Please send up some thoughts or prayers for him, he's getting lots of love for all of us, but he's still a poor sorry beastie!

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Film Notes

The Disappearance of Alice Creed 5/5 marvellous demonstration of what can be achieved on a small budget, very clever
Cop Out - 3/5 Bruce Willis was miscast
The Blind Side - 5/5 very good
The Other Guys - 3/5 meh
Easy A - 5/5 very well written, and as I'm a massive John Hughes fan, I loved the references...
Four Lions - 4/5 agreed with what + Alan said (and I keep thinking I've reviewed some of these already)
Daybreakers 4/5 above average
Planet 51 - 3/5 OK
Date Night - 4/5 funny
Stranger than Fiction - 5/5 had me thinking for ages about the character of God
All the boys love Mandy Lane - 3/5 meh
The Expendables - 4/5 looking forward to the sequel
How to train your dragon - 4/5 good fun
Nine Songs - 4/5 a worthy attempt
You only live twice - 4/5 I'm going through the old Bonds in order with my boys, oh what joy :)

From wrath to apocalypse (5)

The fundamental claim that roots all of Christian life and behaviour is that the Kingdom has begun. Everything in Christian life is rooted in the Easter morning event. This is the good news, the evangel, that there is a new King (the original evangelists were the heralds sent out after a battle to proclaim that a battle has taken place, there has been a victory, and now there is a new King. Paul takes up this language and uses it to talk about Jesus). The whole point of being a Christian is to live under this new King, for the Kingdom is breaking into the world here and now. It is not something that will be accomplished all at once at the end of time (that is apocalypse), it is something which is beginning, and now we are engaged in this process of starting to live by the rules of the Kingdom. 

That is what the Church is called to be. The Church is that community which lives by the rules of the Kingdom. The Church consists of all those who accept that Jesus is Lord – that God is in charge, that His purposes will be accomplished. It is not up to us to achieve the salvation of the world, for the world already has been saved. We do not have to save the world, but we do have to live in the belief that it has been saved. We are resident aliens, immigrants within the secular world, who have ways of life which don’t belong to the world but which belong to the Kingdom, which is coming but not fully here yet. So our ways of life, our hearts, are set upon a different Kingdom, which we long for and which we hope for. The crucial thing about Christian hope is that it is rooted in a decision, a settled will. It is not that we feel hopeful. Christian hope is not a feeling, it doesn’t rest upon our emotional make-up.  It is a decision to act according to this information about the new King.  It is a decision and a way of life. It is not an internal emotional state.

John Chapter 3 verses 14 –21.  “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.  For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life, for God did not send His son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict. Light has come into the world  but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”
 
We are all working in the darkness, and before we know about Christ we do not really know whether our work is good or not. Once the light starts to dawn we can see the nature of the lives we are embedded in, and once we can see the crisis comes. That is when we have a choice to make. Do we stay trapped in the works of darkness or do we go towards the light?  “They will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.”  What is that fear? It is the fear of judgement. It is the fear of being condemned. It is the removal of that fear of condemnation which enables the walking into the light. The whole point about the good news it is that the process of judgement doesn’t have to apply. However, if you believe that you are going to be judged and condemned for what you have been doing, then you will resist what is coming. If, instead, you trust in God being benign, you are enabled to walk into the light. That is the kernel of Christian hope: we can change from how we have been. We can turn towards the light.
 
The Christian imagination is not about imagining the apocalypse – that is the worldly vision. The Christian imagination is instead rooted in love. The revelation, the light which is coming in, is about the truth of who we are as created human beings. It is to say “it doesn’t have to be like this, this world is not set up in the way that God intends us to live, this is not God’s intention”. Instead, the light which is dawning is revealing what God’s intention is, and it exposes the truth about who we are and how we live and therefore it sets us free from these processes. We now have a choice. When Jesus says “I come not to bring peace but a sword”, this is what He is describing. There is a peace in the darkness but now that the light has come there is a necessity of choice. The choice can be painful. There will be a clash between those who turn towards the light and those who stay in the darkness, between those who move towards the light and those who don’t want people to go to the light, because it threatens their comfortable darkness. This is why those who turn to the light will be persecuted. That is the way of the cross.
 
This is profoundly political in implication. It is about how we live, the choices that we make from day to day. We are called to repent of our present ways, changing our hearts, setting our hearts on the light, turning our hearts away from the darkness and turning to the light. This is why Jesus begins his teaching with these words: “The time has come, the Kingdom of God is near, turn your hearts around and believe in the Good News.”

Delivered

With thanks to Pat K for the photo

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

George Monbiot's nuclear conversion

See here.

Once upon a time I worked for the government on assessing the safety of nuclear power stations, and I was involved at the highest level when a significant decision was made about the future of Sellafield (the THORP plant) - I even received a congratulatory message from John Major about the quality of my briefing for his PM Questions (boast!). One of the take-away facts from then is that most people are incredibly superstitious about radiation. The truth is that we are exposed to radiation all the time and, without it, there would be much less evolution over time. If memory serves, the UK regulatory system was much tougher on the nuclear industry than it was on, eg, the coal and fertiliser industries which also generated significant quantities of radiation - indeed, I remember being told that more radioactivity in the Irish Sea came from a fertiliser plant in Cumbria than actually came from Sellafield!

Which is not to say that nuclear power is the answer to all our problems. The principal case against it is economic, both in the medium term (it needs to be subsidised during operations) and especially in the longer term (what to do with nuclear waste). It also locks us into a centralised structure of power generation, which is much less resilient than a dispersed and localised pattern of power generation which I suspect is our future. I think there are interesting possibilities for some measure of nuclear power - eg the Thorium cycle and pebble-bed reactors - but it is probably too late now, not least because after Fukushima - in many ways an incredible testimony to the SAFETY of nuclear power! - the bar of public opinion is set so much higher.

Monbiot seems to have finally grasped two things - that radiation is nowhere near as dangerous as it is often made out to be (see this excellent graphic by xkcd), and also that much of the advocacy in the green movement is driven by emotion and superstition. I look forward to him seeing the light on SOME aspects of agw...

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Busy

Just to say that things are very busy at the moment - Lenten stuff, annual meetings, all the usual

- but joy of joys, my daughter is being baptised tomorrow morning, and I am just going to be playing the part of Dad - and that means that I don't have to write a sermon this afternoon - I can put up a blog post instead! At least, until the wedding couple arrive...

(beach photo taken on the 20th January, and only just uploaded from the camera. Busy busy busy!)

From wrath to apocalypse (4)

So what is the nature of Christian imagination? There can in our lives be a temptation to long for an apocalypse in the gnostic and dualist sense, i.e. to see all the bad people go to hell. It is rooted in a hatred of the present system and a desire for judgement.  It is a very human response that those who are suffering, or those who care about those who are suffering, long for God to act, for there to be same cataclysm and to say “destroy it because it is causing so much pain”.  That is the psychological root of the desire for apocalypse.  It is closely tied in to a sense of judgement and discrimination.  It doesn’t even have to be “I am innocent”, so much as “they are guilty, God destroy them, God damn them!”
 
This is not the Christian perspective. We are taught ever so clearly and directly that we are not to judge.  What this means isn’t just “I’m not going to blame someone for something”, it is a call for Christians to let go of the whole game and business of judging, of blaming, completely. That language and grammar is what drives apocalypse and we are to abandon that language and grammar. We are not called to let go of discrimination, of seeking to discern what the will of God is, but we are called to stop playing the game of “this lot are the righteous, we keep the rules, we keep the law, and that lot are not”.  It is to accept that everyone is in the same boat, that we are all sinners, we are all liable to judgement, and therefore giving up on judgement as a whole. So we do not just give up judgement of other people, but also of ourselves – and by doing this we are set free from “the curse of the law”. 
 
Jesus says we must be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect and He gives a wonderful image of what that perfection is, saying that the Father sends the rain on the just and the unjust. There is no judgement in the rain, it is not that the wicked have a dark cloud above them pouring down rain and thunder and lightning! There is something much more generous and open-hearted about the perfection which we are called to follow. This is the heart of the Christian way, that we let go of the process of judgement, of seeking to separate out the good and the evil. Think of what original sin is, when you bite the fruit you get the knowledge of good and evil, and what Jesus is doing is overcoming that original sin, He is taking away the consequences of that knowledge of good and evil and therefore “I’m good, you’re evil”, or even “I’m evil and you’re good” are both of them a long way from the Christian point of view.

We must let go of this process, and the spiritual root of that letting go is a settled acceptance of the Father’s will. This is the Gethsemane moment: “Not my will but thine be done” and allowing God to be in charge of all judgement. Obedience, therefore, is more central to what it means to be a Christian than “being good”. To be obedient is to have our imaginations shaped by who Christ is and what He shows, to follow in the steps that He has laid out for us. It is about how we hope.