If anything demonstrates a failure to understand different religions today, it’s this story: Bible moved to library top shelf over inequality fears. Muslims in Leicester had been upset to find the Koran on lower shelves of public libraries. They felt their holy text should be on the top shelf to show that it is above commonplace things. Librarians agreed to their request, but also moved copies of the Bible to the top shelf.
I’m prepared to believe they did so out of good intentions. Perhaps they didn’t want to look like they were favouring Islam over other faiths. Perhaps they thought all holy texts should be treated the same, as if the holy book of a religion occupies the same relative place in each faith. If so, they were adopting an approach that has been used in schools to teach about different religions. It takes the phenomena of various faiths, and directly compares them. It is a flawed approach. For, as reaction to this story shows, religious texts are treated differently. My research supervisor, Richard Bauckham, used to say that the place of the Koran in Islam was more akin to the place of Christ in Christianity, because it is revered as eternal, uncreated and coming down out of heaven.
Christians do not treat the Bible that way, however ‘high’ their doctrine of inspiration. In the story, even the spokesperson for the extremely conservative Christian Institute is concerned that the scriptures are not placed out of reach. They are meant to be within the reach of all, a point understood by the spokesperson for Civitas when he called for libraries to be run on principles of librarianship rather than as places of worship. However much we honour the Bible for its revelation of God, we do not worship it. Only God is to be worshipped. The Bible is a holy tool. Like all tools, it needs to be close at hand.
How ironic this news comes in the same week that the atheist Poet Laureate Andrew Motion has said that children need to be taught the Bible or they will fail to understand our culture. As a Christian, I would of course want to make much larger claims for the narrative of Scripture than that, arguing that it is the framework to make sense of life, the universe and everything. However, I welcome his comments nonetheless.
Meanwhile, on the personal front, once again family circumstances have meant I’ve achieved none of my sabbatical aims today. I stayed in with Mark this morning while Debbie, Aunt Pat and Rebekah went into town. At lunch-time, Debbie and Pat left for a day trip to Sussex. However, Mark has been full of beans – or, more accurately even more pasta shapes – and we managed his first trip out this afternoon since he became ill. The local library was putting on a James Bond afternoon for children. If I took it seriously, I wouldn’t like it. Although I’m not a convinced pacifist, I don’t believe you talk about guns and poison casually. The visiting speaker was from a military museum, and was showing examples of equipment used by British spies a few decades ago. Thankfully, it went over our children’s heads and they were more keen to take out some of the books to which they normally gravitate.
Finally, I’m trying to install some extras to the Ubuntu Linux partition on my laptop, ready for my next sabbatical jaunt on Monday. Some things install better on that Vista laptop than our Vista desktop – Ubuntu, for one! I might reboot into Windows and see whether the software for my Sony Ericcson Walkman phone will install properly on that machine – it doesn’t on the desktop. Everything so far has been immensely frustrating, because our broadband has slowed to a crawl in the last day or two. I tested it at and it reported a download speed of just 0.1 Mbps. I’ve been trying to find out tonight whether we’ve been throtted by our ISP for over-use, but so far I can’t find anything – not that it’s easy to find out. I’m going to sign off now and try again to find out some answers.
Just a quick post tonight as I’m busy packing for the drive to Cliff College tomorrow. The weather forecast for the Peak District tomorrow isn’t as sinister as it sounded a couple of days ago, so it looks like the trip is on after all.
By the way, if you’re in the UK, check out the new Weather Beta service on the BBC site. Much improved. You can set several favourite places, see three-hourly forecasts for them for the next twenty-four hours, and a five-day forecast. Plus you can see a video of the forecast on the relevant BBC regional news programme.
Today has had little overt sabbatical work. I took Mark to the library this morning while Debbie took Rebekah to her ballet lesson. This afternoon I took Rebekah into town while Debbie took Mark to a party.
Coming home, I went to check and pump up my tyres ready for tomorrow. Having trouble with the digital pump I have that plugs into the cigarette lighter, I borrowed Debbie’s foot pump. However, I have some kind of Midas touch, except that rather than everything I touch turning to gold, it tends to break. She has just ordered a new pump off eBay. After that, my pump more or less decided to work – well, enough to get the requisite quantities of air into every tyre.
Tonight I’ve tried to catch up on comments here on the blog, and apologies again if my replies have had to be brief. I’ve also been photographing objects Debbie wants to sell on eBay.
If you have a moment, say the odd prayer for our children. They’re not happy about me going away for five days, and aren’t used to me disappearing like this. And it’s the first of three such trips during the sabbatical. Thanks.
Hopefully the next update will be via wifi or mobile broadband from Cliff tomorrow night.
At last. I’ve just finished typing my summary notes of ‘The Starfish and the Spider‘. They exceed three and a half thousand words, so when I post them to the blog I shall certainly split them up. There are probably about seven sections in what I’ve summarised.
The job got finished, because the children’s school was open again today. Snow still lies thick on much ground around here, including the school playground, which was out of bounds, but a path had been cleared to enable parents to get children to their classrooms this morning. Peace at last!
I made one or two phone calls this morning. I am due to travel on Sunday to Cliff College in the Peak District to spend five days studying there. Every day I enter their postcode into the five-day weather forecast section of the BBC website. Currently, heavy snow is predicted for them on Sunday. It’s too early for them to consider cancelling the course, but clearly it is a possibility.
During the day, I found a particularly interesting blog post on Mark Batterson’s Evotional site. Entitled ‘Chief Storyteller‘, Batterson proposes this as a description of a senior pastor’s rôle. We are called to retell ‘genesis stories’ that show where we have come from and where we are headed. There is an intimate connection between the past and the future, to the point that ‘stories of the past … frame visions of the future.’
I think there is a lot in this. My one query (which I left in a comment on the blog) runs something like this. I see great value in this approach in that the ‘genesis stories’ tell us key things about our spiritual DNA, the purposes for which God called our community into being. I’m not so sure they remain the entire framing reference for all future vision. We need to make allowance for the possibility of paradigm shifts that appear to come out of nowhere and seem to bear little relation to our prior trajectory. Even where genesis stories do give us vision for the future, that vision can change shape drastically. A classic example would be the radical reinterpretation of Old Testament texts in the New Testament. In the light of Christ, OT texts bear a wieght they didn’t originally carry in the minds of their authors.
Let’s end today with this. I received a friend request on Facebook today and I didn’t recognise the name. I sent a polite message to the person, asking her to remind me where I knew her. Back came a reply in which she admitted she didn’t know me, but had seen my name on a mutual friend’s list and she thought I was ‘an awesome man of God’.
Well, the lady is clearly very kind, but Debbie would soon correct her misapprehension of me. I am nervous of these descriptions, not out of low self-esteem, but out of a need to protect myself. I have seen Christian leaders who believe the hype, and I wait for them to fall. I can remember one grisly example back in Kent.
Eleven years ago, I was involved in putting on a one-day conference for members of worship bands. Cutting a long story short, at the end of the evening celebration, two women went from the conference to pray with a man who should have been there but had sustained a fall. As they prayed, he felt the heat of the Holy Spirit and was healed. I emailed this story around a few networks at the time, and back came a reply from someone who ran an email group about revival: “David, you mighty man of God.” I had to sit at the computer and type back immediately, explaining I hadn’t even been one of the people who had prayed for the sick man. I was merely recounting the story. As I said, believing the hype is dangerous. The glory must always go to God. And not just in the times of ‘success’, but the opposite too. ‘Though the fig tree does not blossom … yet will I praise him,’ said Habbakuk.
But for those of you who might enjoy a satirical take on self-important and self-deluded leaders, I can do no better than to recommend the wonderful Brant Hansen’s 417 Rules Of Awesomely Bold Leadership. Have a smile. Or a hernia, if you read too many.
Today’s inauguration of Barack Obama as the forty-fourth (what’s the obsession with numbers?) President of the USA was the first one I have watched on the Internet. Thank you, BBC. I guess it was appropriate, given the way Obama leveraged the web in his campaign.
Actually, I can’t remember the last one I watched on the small screen. Watching on the web was a pragmatic decision, knowing that if I put it on the television, the children would cry out for Nick Junior.
I didn’t catch the whole shebang, since I was dashing in and out of the study from the kitchen where I was cooking the family meal. What I saw of Obama impressed me. Yes, the words of his speech were very general, but I don’t see how they could be otherwise. I felt he communicated honesty and realism with his evident oratorical gifts. As everyone says, the real test will be in the days to come. Well, no surprise there.
I caught a fair bit of Rick Warren’s prayer, but again not all of it. The whole of it was inevitably up on YouTube rather quickly:
If I thought about it, there would probably be parts with which I would quibble. However, it seemed to me that the tone of Warren’s prayer was one of evangelical conviction combined with a reaching out rather than a tone of condemnation. You may feel differently – do say below.
I found quite a contrast with Gene Robinson’s prayer earlier in the week, also available on YouTube:
Now I admit openly that theologically I am far more likely to be close to Warren than Robinson. I also left a barbed comment on a friend’s Facebook page when she rejoiced that Obama had invited Robinson and that the bishop had promised not to be overtly Christian in reaching out to people of other faiths.
But having said that, I felt I owed the man a fair hearing in case I had been wrong in the heat of the moment. So tonight I watched the clip above.
And I’m still disappointed. I don’t want to get into the pro- or anti-gay issues here, there are larger questions about the theology and tone of the prayer. There are things in it with which I can happily agree, especially the importance of remembering the poor in the world rather than being triumphalistic. However, my concern about the tone is that it all sounds rather hectoring. It seems to fall into the category of prayer as ‘preaching with eyes closed’. Am I being unfair? I realise this is a rather subjective judgment. It may be his accent!
The theology is of rather more concern. His opening phrase is the one that sets up the idea of reaching out without being specifically Christian: ‘O God of our many understandings …’ You will not be surprised to know that someone of moderately conservative theological persuasions has difficulties with this. Is belief in God a matter merely of human understanding? If so, where does the Christian belief in Jesus fit in? Granted, the doctrine of revelation has its problems, especially when some people claim a near-infallible understanding of the whole counsel of God, but I’m just not prepared to trade in the uniqueness and supremacy of Christ, especially focussed in his incarnation, his exemplary life, his atoning death and resurrection, and his reign at the Father’s right hand. Has Robinson merely baptised secular inclusivism with God-words?
I’d be interested in your opinions. I just ask that since Warren and Robinson are both the subject of passionate views for and against, that we keep our tone as civil and loving as possible, without compromising our convictions.
Some beautiful quotes from the Rosa Parks memorial service on the BBC website today:
Condoleeza Rice, US Secretary of State:
“I can honestly say that without Mrs Parks, I would not be standing here today as secretary of state.”
Bob Riley, Governor of Alabama:
“I firmly believe God puts different people in different parts of history so great things can happen. I think Rosa Parks is one of those people.”
Daniel Coughlin, Chaplain to the House of Representatives:
“Tonight, inspired by her life and leadership, as your free children, we say to Mrs Rosa Parks: Ride on, ride on, ride on in the direction of endless hope to the table of equal justice and eternal peace.”
Put these quotes together and we have a beautiful and challenging picture of holistic Christian faith lived out in the crucible of the world. May we all aspire to that.
The Director-General of the BBC has said some interesting and provocative things about religious broadcasting (see Ekklesia News report here). Here’s a call for creative involvement: sounds like an invitation to incarnation to me, and to use the arts as arts, not as propaganda.