Monthly Archives: May 2009

links for 2009-05-30

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A Financial Decision

This week, I bought a new toy. Actually, you might say I’m treating it less like a toy and more like a pet, given how regularly I am feeding it and taking it for walks.

I bought an iPod.

I’ve wanted one for aeons. I love music. I have a large CD collection. The thought of portable, available music is bliss. Yet I’ve never bought an iPod before.

Sure, the last time I had to buy a mobile phone, I bought one that came with an MP3 player. But despite good reviews, the Sony Ericsson W810i proved to be unrecyclable rubbish. As a phone it’s good, but the MP3 is terrible. The software provided is the most unreliable I’ve ever encountered, and I’ve become quite acquainted with Sony Ericsson‘s technical support people, who could only blame it on an unspecified clash with other programs on our PC. What are the problems? When I do get tracks on it, either because the software got out of the bed the right side just for once, or because I resort to a conventional copy and paste in Windows, it has a sneaky trick for me. It mangles the order of the tracks. Usually, they are completely reversed. Occasionally, just the first track is moved to the end. Imagine that when you’re listening to a live recording, such as Bruce Cockburn‘s brilliant recent release Slice O Life.

Then it has another trick. It calls this ‘Playback failed’. At the end of a track (and lately in the middle, too) it goes on strike. The only solution is to reboot the phone.

In short, it’s about as productive as a nineteen seventies British Leyland shop steward. I swear I have a Friday afternoon phone, much as we used to speak of being saddled with Friday afternoon cars.

So I’ve been Googling around forums, seeking advice. You wouldn’t believe the number of people who have reported the same faults with this phone. (So maybe it’s not a Friday afternoon one, but Sony Ericsson’s regular standard. Do they supply specially tweaked ones to reviewers and then ship piles of manure to the shops?) I’ve tried all the suggestions I could find. Nothing has improved the phone.

Well, I clearly needed a new MP3 player. And rather like Janis Joplin singing, ‘O Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz‘, I prayed, ‘O Lord, please may I have an iPod?’

Now my ideal iPod would be an iPod Classic. The 120Gb version. No, actually, the short-lived 160GB model. I would need all that capacity and more to fit in what I want. But the price was not right. Money for treats is not plentiful chez Faulkner. I could pray for the Lord to provide, but what had he provided? I had £25 in Amazon vouchers, and someone had also recently given me £20. The new bottom of the range 4GB iPod Shuffle was £56.60 on Amazon, whereas everybody else was charging the full £59.00. Whoo and indeed hoo, a £2.40 discount. I would only need to find £11.60 of my own money.

That was manageable, but was it right? I’ve always made a point of praying about financial decisions, especially big ones. I know this isn’t the biggest, but much as I wanted an iPod, I knew I could be giving in to self-indulgence here. There have been various occasions when God’s answer has been dramatically clear in my life. One was about getting to theological college the first time, when I was turned down for a student grant. There is a long and wonderful story I can tell about how God provided the finances.

And in 1998, I had another example. I was praying about buying a new computer. I wanted one. The old one was crawling and there was little more that could be done to cure its arthritis. I had an ongoing prayer, asking God to show me whether it was right to buy a new one or whether I was merely justifying my love of PCs.

I had a woman in one of my churches who had received the most remarkable gift of prophecy. One Saturday, she went down to the church building to pray on her own. While she was at the front of the worship area near the pulpit and communion table, she prayed for me. She told me soon afterwards that the Lord had told her to tell me I could have what I wanted. She had no idea that I was praying about buying a new PC.

It wasn’t so dramatic with the iPod. It clicked in a simple way. What was the reason I’d gone for a phone with an MP3 player? Answer: because I need to exercise more., and I needed a motivation to get out walking. Listening to music and podcasts became my incentive. All I can say is that still just felt ‘right’, and hence I welcomed my new silver arrival on Thursday morning.

And this experience prompts me to ask: what are the criteria you use as a Christian in making a serious financial decision? One or two of mine have poked their heads above the parapet in this story, not least the importance of prayer in the discernment of motives. Let’s have a conversation below in the Comments where we can encourage one another. And if you have some good stories, please share them. I for one would love to read them.

links for 2009-05-29

links for 2009-05-28

In Which Dave Likes God TV (For Once)

The worship band has departed from the stage. In its place, a blonde American woman strides across from one side to the other, speaking to a large, adoring throng.

She punctuates her sentences with occasional words that are not in English. Maybe it’s a language I don’t know, maybe it’s tongues. Perhaps if I’d tuned in earlier, I would have gleaned some context to know which it is.

Her sermon is a daisy-chain of Bible passages and miracle stories, each time coming back to a slogan: ‘Seek his face in the secret place.’ She tells of being miraculously protected from snake poison, and being healed of MRSA in an African hospital when she had been given up for dead. She speaks of being delivered from prison. She talks of miracles similar to the feeding of the five thousand.

In the top left corner of the screen, I see the usual God TV icon, telling me where this conference is coming from. Abbotsford, British Columbia in Canada. And I think, isn’t that where Todd Bentley came from? What is this? My theory is confirmed when I see the perspex pulpit. ‘Fresh Fire Ministries’, the name of the organisation Bentley was with until the tragedy of his fall last year. Anyone who has read my posts on Bentley will know that he and the whole ‘Lakeland Outpouring’ last year deeply troubled me.

But this – this is different. This is Heidi Baker. Sandwiched among the prosperity filth available on the same channel at other times, such as Matthew Ashimolowo wanting to flog me something on wealth creation, is this woman. I’ve read snippets about her before, but here she is. With her husband Rolland, she left behind southern California and also PhD research at Kings College, London to work among the poor of southern Africa. The miracles seem to have far more to do with ministry to the poor, sick and orphaned of Mozambique and neighbouring nations.

Sure, when I googled her name I found blogs that are critical of her. What I didn’t find wa any substance to the criticism. There may be and I could have missed it, but to date the most I’ve found is a kind of ‘guilty by association’ approach. She is regularly quoted at End Times Prophetic Words because she is on the same conference speaking list as a number of notorious extreme charismatic preachers. I’ve trawled through quite a few posts there where she is mentioned, but not found any specific, substantial allegations against here, whereas the site racks up all sorts of evidence against some of the others.

There are also some things on a blog called Spiritual Pathways Ministries but they are not easy to access. Click on them from Google and you are told the blog is protected. Only if you have the WordPress user name and password can you get in. You can instead click to see the cached version in Google, but it doesn’t come up with a lot. They come up with two or three allegations. One is that she has commended Todd Bentley in the past, and so lacks discernment. Maybe. Does that make her a deceiver? Not necessarily. She could have made a mistake, or she might have serious and honest grounds for Christian disagreement, rather like my friend Peter Kirk has done with me on the topic of Bentley, but we don’t unchurch each other. If you judge Bentley to be in error, the question should be whether she still endorses him. (The article predates Bentley’s fall last summer.)

The second allegation is that her husband Rolland thought a lot of the controversial Pentecostal leader William Branham, who certainly held some fundamentally heretical theological views. Rolland described him as ‘the most anointed man since Christ’, according to the blog, although they do not cite a reference to support the quotation. We would need to know more, though, to work out whether Rolland Baker is a heretic, too, or whether he has simply said something plain daft.

The third allegation is that the Bakers practise ‘soaking prayer’. Their criticism is expounded in another post that again is only accessible through the Google cache. (Why this protection?) The gist of the article goes something like this. Heidi Baker claims to have seen the greatest miracles after times of soaking prayer. Soaking prayer consists of three things that the writer finds objectionable: one, it originates in the ‘Toronto Blessing; two, it is akin to eastern mysticism, and three, proponents charge a lot of money in connection with it.

Well, I’m sorry, this is unworthy. Yes, there were some things wrong with the Toronto stuff, but plenty of people maintained a perfectly orthodox theology through it. Eastern mysticism? Not necessarily. Not all visualisation is wrong. Be careful about dismissing everything that is to do with the imagination. And the idea that it’s a money-maker – well, all I can say is, I’ve never come across that. I will not doubt the word of the writer who seems to think it does, but every single example I have known of churches practising soaking prayer there has not been a penny change hands. Heavens above, one of the Methodist churches here in my local circuit offers it once a month. My friend Stephanie the minister there is far from raking it in. Her prayer ministry leader is a woman of integrity, too. In short, the accusations against Baker on this one produce not a single shred of evidence specifically tied to her. It is all the ‘guilt by association tactic.

So there you go. I find it refreshing that here is a woman who, yes, has all the outward trappings of extreme charismatic Christianity, but who seems clearly committed to the notion that the power of the Holy Spirit isn’t to tickle the rich, but to bless the poor. Didn’t Jesus seem to think so when he quoted Isaiah 61 in Luke 4?

Of course, I could be wrong. Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments below. All I ask is that we pursue any discussion in a way that demonstrates the fruit of the Spirit. If I am in error, show me, but without ranting. If you have contrary opinions, produce evidence with citations. And if you agree with me, please say why you do.

Over to you.

…………

Finally tonight, one or two bits of blogging news. Firstly, I have finally deleted the old blog. It’s no use looking for http://davefaulkner.typepad.com anymore, because it doesn’t exist. Well, it probably does in Google searches, but you’ll need to read the cached version if you do. There should be no need, though: when I set up this blog last August, I imported all the old posts here. The only thing that will be missing is that since the move, and old piece I wrote about Larry Norman has continued to attract the occasional comment.

In passing, other bloggers might just be interested in this. Today, I submitted this blog to LoadedWeb. This service is a blog directory based on your geographical area. Currently they serve the USA, Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand, with mainland European countries to come next. Within each country, you click on your county/state/province/whatever, and then on your town. If you think you might pick up traffic through interest in where you live, it is worth investigating this service. You can also add your Twitter account.

On The Problem Of The Writer’s Craft In Protestant Christianity

Oh dear, that title sounds like a thesis, doesn’t it? The issue came into my head the other day when I received the quarterly ‘new titles’ email from Grove Books. They featured a booklet called ‘Telling Ourselves In Ink: Creative Writing in the Church‘ by Corin Child. Just to come across it associated in my mind with critical comments I’ve heard in some church circles directed at people who enjoy writing.

This is personal for me. I enjoy writing. I don’t think I’m great, but I think I have something to offer. Some people have been kind in telling me how my writing has helped them. On my first sabbatical (not the one I recently finished), I spent a week on a creative writing course at the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, run by the Association of Christian Writers. During that course, one tutor said, “Don’t be afraid to describe yourself as a writer.” I found that liberating. Others, who don’t appreciate my love of writing, don’t. “Why are you wasting time with that?”

So when I saw the Grove book, I mentioned it on the email discussion list of Subway Writers, to which I belong. I don’t feel I should be in their company half the time, most of them are professionals. The book title made me wonder whether they feel understood in their churches. One person emailed about the terrific support she receives. In reply to another member, I wrote a longer screed which set out some of my thoughts and feelings on the subject. This person observed that because ‘the word’, the Bible, has been central in Protestant churches, other uses of words, especially creative ones, can be seen as superfluous or dangerous. Most of the rest of this post is a lightly edited version of what I said there. I’d be interested in your comments.

Yes, [name], I think this is often a particular problem for Protestants. Catholicism and Orthodoxy know the long history of Christian involvement with the arts, and (at least in the visual arena) celebrate it, even depend on it. I heard it argued not so long ago that there are proportionally more Catholics involved in the film industry than Protestants.

Protestants, as you say, focus historically on ‘the word’, and this has the effect of devaluing other words. I’m not about to have a downer on the primacy of Scripture – far from it, as an evangelical! – but I suppose it got taken to extremes in churches that would only sing Scripture, and not other hymns. Hence the Scottish Paraphrases of the Psalms.

The evangelical emphasis on evangelism (especially since the split with liberals over the ‘social gospel’ a hundred years ago) meant that anything not concentrating on evangelism was inferior – especially something as indirect as writing and novels, with the ‘show, don’t tell’ principle. You have to tell, they would say! (And does that explain the ‘preachy’ nature of some written evangelical work? I can think of perfectly good sketches by Christian drama companies that spoke for themselves, only to be ruined by the ‘explanation’ tacked on the end.)

Not only that, the evangelical suspicion of the imagination has a lot to answer for: it seems to pick the word ‘imagination’ out of a concordance and noticing its association with another word, ‘vain’, in Scripture, has led to an erroneous assumption that all imagination is bad. No wonder historians such as David Bebbington see evangelicalism as a creation of the rationalist Enlightenment. That suspicion of imagination has been underlined in recent years by its association with questionable New Age visualisation techniques. So not only is it vain, it’s also demonic!

Add in a particular concern with historicism, and novelists in particular might be marginalised. Evangelicals have a right and proper concern for historical truth. If the story of Jesus is not true, then (as Paul says about the Resurrection) our hope is in vain. Yet as we know, the Bible is a collation of many different types of literature. Fiction can be used to show (not tell, again!) a message – something surely Jesus himself knew in the creation of his parables. Therefore, does it matter if some scholars argue that the books of Job and Jonah are inspired fiction? I think not – and, I think in doing so, they add to the legitimacy of the novelist’s art.

But I also suspect this is a problem for some liberal Christians. While they have been welcoming of things that are not overtly in-your-face-and-down-your-throat Christian, their commendable emphasis on social action means that if you’re not getting your hands dirty serving the poor, you must be wasting your time.

It is reasons like these that made me wonder what reception some of you pros get in your churches. I must say, it was heartening to read of [name]’s positive experiences.

links for 2009-05-27

Time For A Silly Video

Nothing exciting to report today. My recovery continues slowly. I got up to about four to five hours’ sleep last night. I had enough concentration to bring down the inbox considerably. Not there yet, but I did reduce it from 160 to 50, which was satisfying. Thanks, too, for the conversations on the last couple of major blog posts. I enjoy the comments.

However, I just had to share this video with you today, thanks to Matthew Paul Turner. It’s one of those hilariously bad bits of Christian kitsch. Watch out for the comedy Satan figure, and my favourite bit, where the guitarist fires a laser at Satan by playing a solo.

links for 2009-05-26

links for 2009-05-25

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