Monthly Archives: November 2005

Suing God

The quote below is from a Times Online article (registration required). Thanks to Richard Hall for the link.
 
Is this the Gospel? Reminds me of the old story about a little girl who asks her mother, “Mummy, do all fairy stories end with ‘And they all lived happily ever after’?”.
 
“No,” says Mum, “some end with, ‘When I became a Christian all my problems disappeared’.”
 

Pavel M., the Romanian prisoner suing God, founds his claim in contract. He argues that his baptism was an agreement between him and God under which, in exchange for value such as prayer, God would keep him out of trouble. Lawyers for the prisoner, who is serving 20 years for murder, have reported that they would be unable to subpoena God to appear in the case.

 

 
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The Oldest Church In The World

Plenty on the blogs this week about the discovery of possibly the oldest church building in the world. I like the report on Novum Testamentum about the mosaic inscription that has caused so much discussion. The translation here shows at least two important things for me:
 
1. If we’re dealing with a mid-second century date, then regardless of anything else (such as clear New Testament teaching, say) here is clear evidence that early Christians acknowledged the divinity of Jesus Christ. So Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code assertion that Constantine imposed the doctrine of Christ’s divinity is once again shown to be so much hogwash. Yet a conspiracy-fixated culture chooses to dote on Brown. Madness.
 
2. Something that has attracted less attention on the blogs I’ve read (maybe it’s mentioned elsewhere) is the argument in the Novum Testamentum article that the Akeptus (or Acceptus) who is quoted in the inscription as having ‘dedicated the table to God, Jesus Christ, as a memorial’ is almost certainly female. Is this another possible sign of female leadership in the early centuries of the church? At the very least Akeptus has to be a prominent member of the congregation.
 
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Derek Webb lyrics

Sacred Journey reports some startling lyrics on the forthcoming Derek Webb CD Mockingbird. Blow the sanitised CCM gush of the recent years where Christian music has been emasculated from radical revolution to conservative business, these sound more like the incendiary stuff Larry Norman was turning out in the early Seventies:

“there are two great lies that I’ve heard:
‘the day you eat of the fruit of that tree, you will not surely die’
and that Jesus Christ was a white, middle-class republican
and if you wanna be saved you have to learn to be like Him”
-from “A King & A Kingdom”
+ + +

“peace by way of war is like purity by way of fornication
it’s like telling someone murder is wrong and then showing them by way of execution”
-from “My Enemies Are Men Like Me”
+ + +

“are we defending life when we just pick and choose
lives acceptable to lose and which ones to defend”
-from “Love Is Not Against The Law”
+ + +

“don’t teach me about moderation and liberty, i prefer a shot of grape juice”
-from “A New Law”
+ + +

“my first allegiance is not to a flag, a country, or a man,
my first allegiance is not to democracy or blood
it’s to a king & a kingdom”
-from “A King & A Kingdom”
+ + +

“come on and follow Me, but sell your house, sell your SUV,
sell your stocks, sell your security
and give it to the poor”
-From “Rich Young Ruler”

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Derek Webb lyrics

Sacred Journey reports some startling lyrics on the forthcoming Derek Webb CD Mockingbird. Blow the sanitised CCM gush of the recent years where Christian music has been emasculated from radical revolution to conservative business, these sound more like the incendiary stuff Larry Norman was turning out in the early Seventies:

“there are two great lies that I’ve heard:
‘the day you eat of the fruit of that tree, you will not surely die’
and that Jesus Christ was a white, middle-class republican
and if you wanna be saved you have to learn to be like Him”
-from “A King & A Kingdom”
+ + +

“peace by way of war is like purity by way of fornication
it’s like telling someone murder is wrong and then showing them by way of execution”
-from “My Enemies Are Men Like Me”
+ + +

“are we defending life when we just pick and choose
lives acceptable to lose and which ones to defend”
-from “Love Is Not Against The Law”
+ + +

“don’t teach me about moderation and liberty, i prefer a shot of grape juice”
-from “A New Law”
+ + +

“my first allegiance is not to a flag, a country, or a man,
my first allegiance is not to democracy or blood
it’s to a king & a kingdom”
-from “A King & A Kingdom”
+ + +

“come on and follow Me, but sell your house, sell your SUV,
sell your stocks, sell your security
and give it to the poor”
-From “Rich Young Ruler”

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Bryn Haworth, Keep The Faith

I went to play Bryn Haworth‘s new CD Keep The Faith on the hi-fi this morning, only to find that the kids had not only wrecked the loudspeaker covers, they’d done unmentionable things to the woofers, too. So the CD went on the computer (and was ripped to iTunes). Can’t stop playing it: often reminiscent of his early 1980s album Pass It On (must be the horn section). So many of the songs sound like I’ve known them for years – always a good sign. Lovely to hear Bryn’s slide guitar given full rein, too. And a lovely adaptation of Maggi Dawn‘s Wash Me Clean: Bryn has taken this old chorus and added several verses. Beautiful.
 
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What Does The Fifth Of November Remember, Remember?

Adrian Warnock has been blogging about Guy Fawkes’ Night and his gratitude for the fact that it celebrates our Reformation heritage. (Well, perhaps just theoretically these days – rather like Christmas). Certainly the history is lost on many people, apart from cries of “Where are you, Guy Fawkes, when we need you?” at times when we are frustrated by our politicians.
 
He refers to the biggest celebrations every year in Lewes, where huge parades takes effigies through the narrow streets of the old county town. Protestants were martyred in the town in 1556 and the traditional effigy is of  Paul V, who was Pope at the time of the Gunpowder Plot. In recent years the Bonfire has had news coverage for the controversial choices of effigies. In 2003 the bonfire society from the nearby village of Firle made an effigy of Travellers, after problems there had been in the village. Prosecutions under race hatred laws were considered; the travellers were fearful, because there had been actual fire-based attacks on their communities in Sussex in the recent past; locals regarded it (as with other effigies, such as Osama bin Laden in 2001, as satire). My wife is a Lewesian and could not understand the possible prosecutions; I, having grown up in a very multi-racial area, could understand fears of racism.
 
Like Adrian, although I have many fine Catholic friends, I am grateful for a Reformation heritage being preserved. However there must be qualifiers. The word ‘bonfire’ comes from ‘bone fire’, that is, burning people alive. There is something to be deeply ashamed of here, too, as Christians. Is this the way of the Cross? Further, it was not simply a matter of the Reformation being preserved, but a particular strand of it: moderate Anglicanism, reformed in doctrine and Catholic in church order. It was a form of Christianity that would continue to persecute those it disagreed with – witness the Cavalier Parliament. It took until the nineteenth century before legislation began to remove discrimination against Catholics and Non-Conformists.
 
But having said that, there is something generally very ugly here with which all Christians must grapple: when we get into power we can do terrible things. The Puritan Commonwealth of Oliver Cromwell persecuted the Anglicans and the Catholics. What is it we have failed to learn from the Cross about power?
 
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Halloween: Turning Trick Or Treat Upside-Down

Here is a wonderfully subversive and positive Christian witness on Halloween: going out as if to do Trick Or Treat but instead turning up on people’s doorsteps, giving them presents. Unconditional grace or what? The ‘light parties’ and the like are all very good, but they do keep the Christians in their ghetto. This doesn’t.

Online Bible Versions

Useful blog and replies here regarding a huge variety of online Bibles. I’ve added to mine. Previously I only had NIV and NRSV. Now I have a whole lot more.

Bono On Faith, Life And Music: Rolling Stone Interview

Great link from the weekly Off-The-Map Idealab email (NB the link is only in the email, not on the website) to a new interview with Bono by Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone magazine. Fascinating section on his religious beliefs. Christians wonder whether Bono is ‘one of us’. He explains that his beliefs do make him a Christian, he is just reluctant to use the label because he feels he doesn’t live up to the standard. There is surely more grace for the Bonos of this world.

Note for the sensitive: several profanities in the interview.

Don’t Stuff The Dog

Angie Ward has an excellent piece at Leadership Journal entitled Don’t Stuff The Dog. She talks of how pet owners have deceased animals stuffed and left in the house as a sign of denial and also sometimes to scare off strangers. She makes this telling comparison:

Churches seem to have a special proclivity toward “stuffing the dog,” maintaining programs, buildings, and even members in an attempt to forestall necessary change. In the short term, it’s sometimes much easier to stuff a church’s pets than to acknowledge their death, grieve their loss, and give them an appropriate burial.

These pets may take the form of programs that are tied more to history than to current effectiveness; they may be personal favorites, the “pet projects” and ministries of influential leaders who don’t want to let go of them; or they may just be familiar mutts that everyone agrees have passed their prime, but are more familiar (or maybe just cheaper!) than a new animal.

… stuffed animals might bring temporary comfort to those inside the organization, but they may actually turn off or even frighten newcomers who aren’t familiar with the history and meaning behind them. Whether it’s a particular worship style, a ritual, an outdated program, or even a powerful clique within the church, visitors will usually be quick to notice that something’s not quite right. They may not stick around to find out what, or why.

It’s so hauntingly familiar. How often as church leaders we are called to exercise spiritual terminal care over a church group that does not realise or want to contemplate that it is dying. For all my interest in contemporary ministry, the classic meeting that fits this idea wherever I go is the Women’s Fellowship. The formula is predictable. They meet on a midweek afternoon for an hour. There are always three hymns taken from a long-superseded hymn book, an opening prayer that remembers the sick who cannot be present, and a speaker who may be religious in theme or not. It meets a genuine need mostly for elderly widows who would not otherwise see many people from week to week apart from Sunday morning.

However they often cannot understand why the women in the congregation who have more recently reached retirement age don’t want to join them. There has been a culture change, and these women generally prefer the home group. It’s more informal and in the best ones more opportunity for vulnerable openness and mutual support.

But while it’s easy to look down on outmoded Women’s Fellowships, we may miss the likelihood that the home groups may themselves soon need terminal care. A Bible study where the challenge of the material is dissipated by a quick closing prayer and the opportunity over tea and coffee afterwards to move onto less uncomfortable topics of conversation, anyone?

In truth, all such new formulations are prone to this danger before too long. It isn’t just about culture change, it’s about losing the vision and the passion. What am I doing, both to give outmoded activities terminal care and a decent funeral, but also to help ensure that our whole focus remains on life and discipleship? Jut introducing something new as if ‘cell’ or ‘base communities’ or whatever were the answer is to miss the point. To change the metaphor, what am I doing to promote new wine and new wineskins?