Category Archives: Culture

Will Netflix Change The Church?

Netflix Icon

Netflix Icon by dolphinsdock on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Read Carey Nieuwhof’s piece ‘5 Things Netflix Is Showing Church Leaders About The Future‘.  Not all of these developments are good: who wants a model of Christiani disciples as isolated content consumers?

But in other places, there are some big and positive challenges to the church here: to see Sunday morning as more than singing and speaking, but about building relationships. To tell our great story well. To focus on our purpose, and to call people to something greater than themselves.

See what you think and let me know in the comments below.

Thanksgiving: Two Messages On Gratitude

For my American friends on Thanksgiving today (and indeed for others), here are two very different reflections on gratitude.

The first is a meditation by Max Lucado, in which he reflects on the power of expressing gratitude to God for the simple, everyday things in leading us through difficulties. Read it here.

The second comes from a tradition very different from my own. Benedictine monk David Steindl-Rast claims there is a lot of common ground between Christianity and Buddhism – a view of which I am sceptical.

But gratitude is a big theme of his. He is a co-founder of ANG*L (A Network for Grateful Living) and here is his TED Talk on how gratitude leads to happiness. See what you think.

Whatever you think, may you give thanks to the One who is worthy of all thanksgiving.

Singles In The Church

Only The Lonely by Bandita on Flickr

Only The Lonely by Bandita on Flickr

A survey of single Christians in church does not surprise me at all. Single Christians often feel ‘isolated , alone and lonely’ in church. Single women feel they are seen as threats to married couples.

Why does this not surprise me? Because I was 41 before I married, and I experienced some of this. I was told that marriage was ‘the norm’, which made me feel abnormal. There were questions raised behind my back about my sexuality. To some extent, things changed when I began as a minister, because one of the positives about that was to find myself on the receiving end of many kind offers of hospitality. But I also heard married Christians say they did not think I would be able to help them – without a thought for all the single Christians who might feel that married ministers could not understand them.

I have reflected in the past that there is an assumption in the world that you are not fully human unless you are having regular sex. Since the church usually confines sex to marriage, that is adapted to a notion that you are not fully human unless you are married.

What are your experiences? Do you have some better examples, some stories of best practice?

After all, it’s ironic how often we don’t notice that our Lord and Saviour was single.

Happy St George’s Day


Scones (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s 23rd April, doubtless some politicians are preparing some patriotic soundbites for us English. And isn’t it interesting that just by typing this post, WordPress suggested I tagged it with the words ‘David Cameron’?

People will celebrate with quintessentially English things, like warm beer or tea and scones. Flags are flying, and this is the day when we are proud to be English. We even have our own superhero now. For normally to be English is to be subject to perpetual disappointment (our football team), or to reach the top and fail to stay there (our cricket and rugby teams). And how dare those naughty Scottish Nationalists think of keeping our pound if they get independence!

I am not ashamed of my identity: I love being British and English. But there is one thing I would like the jingoists and the racists to remember today: George was the son of a Greek father and a Palestinian mother. So maybe the best way to celebrate would be with some houmous and a kebab. Dragons, beware, he comes breathing the fire of chilli sauce.

Oh, wait a minute: that’s the scene outside Knaphill takeaways late at night.

The Evils Of A Commercialised Christmas

Looks like one Brisbane church accidentally got it right for this time of year:

The Diamond Jubilee And Living On Past Glories

So I flitted between repeats of Have I Got News For You on the Dave Channel and whatever was happening at the Diamond Jubilee Concert. It was altogether too ‘mainstream’ in its musical tastes for me (as I would expect). But here’s what struck me: you have the extraordinary visuals for Madness‘ wonderfully cheeky rendition of Our House:

Stevie Wonder got a bit confused between the notion of birthday and Jubilee:

And Paul McCartney certainly gave the gig a spectacular ending, not least with Live And Let Die (no, HRH, don’t take that literally about your mother):

But, but, but. What an embarrassment Elton John was. And I say that as someone who liked his early music. Well, the Seventies stuff, up to about the Blue Moves album. While I’ve posted the full performances above of Madness, Wonder and McCartney, I can’t bear to do that for Elt. The nadir, which epitomised the whole sorry performance, was Crocodile Rock, and it’s telling there are no decent quality clips of that track on YouTube this morning. I have a fondness for that shallow little song, because it brings back certain teenage memories. I used to co-edit a satirical school magazine in Sixth Form, and when our Physics teacher turned up one day in glasses for the first time, we ran posters around the school about Elton Vine and rewrote this song as Crocodile Clip. (I’ll pass on our deeply unChristian rewrite of Your Song as My Song.)

Crocodile Rock last night showed what has been obvious for years whenever Sir E H John has sung in public (at least, going on TV performances). He can’t reach the high notes any more. He tacitly admitted it by delegating the falsetto part not even to backing vocalists but to the crowd. McCartney and Wonder hit some bum notes, but they still had some decent range.

At the end of the set, the compère said Elton was someone who certainly knew how to put on a show.

He does. He just can’t sing anymore. Which is inconvenient but doesn’t get in the way. He’s living on past glories.

And we got something similar with the video montage of the Queen’s reign, set to the orchestral version of U2’s Beautiful Day. It all reinforced the ridiculous ‘Sixty Glorious Years’ slogan that has been repurposed from a 1930s film about Queen Victoria. Not that you’d expect an event like this to highlight Princess Margaret’s wild life, Randy Andy’s supposedly secret trysts with Koo Stark, the annus horribilis or the effect of Diana’s death on the royal family. There, too, like Reginald Dwight Esquire, we can live on past glories.

Not that we’d know anything about putting on a good show and living on past glories in the church. Oh, no.

Instant Gratification

One thing you’ve hardly had on this blog is instant gratification. Not with three weeks since my last post, thanks to major work pressures. However, I received the graphic below in an email from someone called Tony Shin, and although it’s based on American culture, I think the same basic points hold for the UK. The question, of course, is why we are addicted to the instant. Deferred gratification, rather than instant gratification, is meant to be a sign of psychological health. Is instant gratification a sign of immaturity?

Instant America
Created by: Online Graduate Programs

We’re Off To Deconstruct The Wizard

Andrew. Lloyd. And Webber. Three words that strike fear into my music-loving heart.

Musicals are just not my thing. But a week ago, we took the children for a pre-Christmas treat to the London Palladium to see Lloyd-Webber‘s staging of The Wizard Of Oz, complete with the additional songs that he and Tim Rice have written to fill out the famous Hollywood film into a full musical.

And I have to say, that while it is not my taste, I had to admire the quality of the production – the staging, the singing, the special effects, the lot. For our children’s first ever visit to a West End production, it was pretty unbeatable.

But me being me, I was sitting through it pondering deeper meanings. I have thought for a while that The Wizard Of Oz was a prime text for post-Enlightenment modernists, with its unveiling of the Wizard as a mere mortal, whose apparent supernatural abilities are unmasked as mere human trickery. Is this the musical the New Atheists would like? I know, I should have been enjoying the show, but my mind was exploring tangents. And furthermore, I was wrong anyway. Reading the programme afterwards, I discovered that L Frank Baum, who wrote the story, had a completely different meaning in mind. My response was a classic of reader-response theory, you could say.
Baum’s meanings were all to do with the economic and political situation of the 1890s. The brick road was yellow to represent the gold standard. Dorothy’s slippers were silver (they only became red in the film to promote the virtues of Technicolor) to stand for those who also thought free silver should play a part in the economy. The Kansas farmers were poor agricultural victims of the economic times. The scarecrow is the farmers, the tin man the troubled industrial workers and the cowardly lion is unsuccessful Presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, who refused to support the Spanish-American war. The Wicked Witch of the East stood for the evil financial institutions. The Wicked Witch of the West was the climactic conditions that ruined lives. The good witch came about, because Baum was a devotee of Theosophy and Spiritualism. The Wizard himself was almost any post-civil war US President, including perhaps William McKinley, who defeated Bryan. They were to be seen, in Dorothy’s terms, as ‘humbug’.

Which raises different questions today from the one I thought the story asked: why do we still expect our political leaders to be wizards? Why do we complain when their wizardry is unmasked? And can we ever expect more than humbug from them? What, in short, is a realistic expectation of our politicians, especially at a time of economic difficulty, such as our current circumstances?

Cohabitation, Marriage And Fragile Relationships

How do we see cohabitation as Christians? I’d be interested in your thoughts. I have many Christian friends who adopt the ‘traditional’ view, but an increasing number who live together before marriage. Friends of both persuasions read this blog.

I’ve known for years that research that suggests those who cohabit are more likely to break up than those who don’t. I seem to recall figures that couples who cohabit and then marry are 60% more likely to divorce than couples who only move in together at marriage. Couples who cohabit but never marry are twice as likely to break up as couples who marry without cohabiting first. However, I’ve lost the references to that research, so my memory of it may be faulty.

I have, though, now come across some nuanced research from a Christian perspective that not only shows the greater likelihood of cohabiting couples to break up, but also goes into something I had long thought: that there are many reasons for cohabitation. While in some less bureaucratic societies a couple moving in together did constitute marriage, cohabitation in our society has a number of different reasons. Informal marriage, trial marriage, a rejection of marriage, a matter of convenience and so on. The report, ‘Cohabitation – an alternative to marriage?‘  comes from the Jubilee Centre. One of the researchers was interviewed by Cross Rhythms.

It can’t all be about statistics, of course. It must also be about what we believe to be the core principles of marriage and relationships. For example, is a sexual relationship covenantal or even sacramental?

So – over to you. How do you see this?

Masculinity, The Church And Christian Faith

Oh, good grief:

And worse?

(HT: Matthew Paul Turner)
Has Mark Driscoll been out-Driscolled by Pastor Ed Young? Maybe Harry Hill should get Young and Driscoll together. Because, in the words of his catchphrase, there’s only one way to settle this – fight!

Only a couple of days ago, The Guardian reported on ‘muscular Christianity’, complete with art of a tattooed, muscle-rippling Jesus, who sadly doesn’t look remotely Semitic. (And conveniently overlooking, as one commenter noted, the Jewish prohibition on tattoos.)
That article is at least slightly serious but sadly a little short. It ends by quoting Eric Delve, the vicar of St Luke’s, Maidstone, saying,

Men are looking for action figures. That’s why they follow footballers.

This is a theme Eric has had for many years.  In the midst of how easy it is to laugh or to throw up our hands in horror at the Young/Driscoll approach (how dangerous is it when combined with hard-line complementarianism?), it’s also important to remember that while this is a deeply defective and distorted image of Christ and faith, these guys are knowingly tapping into a well-known perception by men of Christianity. Faith is a lifeboat affair: women and children first.

An acquaintance at college did some research into the different ways in which women and men came to faith. While all this must be seen on a spectrum rather than expecting everyone of a particular sex to behave in the same way, he noted that women responded more to a message of forgiveness and men more when the message was couched in terms of giving a purpose for life. This would make some sense of Delve’s quotation, although it still leaves no room for the Young video that sees nothing wrong with people punching the lights out of each other. It’s an irony, perhaps, that the forgiveness message is usually preached by … men.

So however crude and ugly some of the he-man Christianity is, there is still a fair point. We’ve known for a while that church is thought to portray a wishy-washy image of Jesus. But the he-man approach gets the notion of strength all wrong. It isn’t strength to inflict pain on someone: the strength of Jesus is in the courage to suffer.

Meanwhile, some of us feel we don’t fit into either the wishy-washy camp or the muscular lot. Me, I like sport but I wasn’t born with the build to get into all the heavy physical stuff. I was born with scoliosis, a curvature of the spine, so I’m probably disqualified from Young or Driscoll’s churches like some defective animal that wouldn’t be sacrificed in the Old Testament.

What, then, is a healthy attitude to maleness and Christian faith? Thoughts?