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Blog Archives

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.

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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.

The Subversion Of Coronation Street

I am no Coronation Street fan. In fact, I’d say I was allergic to soaps. But this story in the Mail On Sunday heartened this Tottenham Hotspur supporter: apparently the current producer is a Spurs fan and has included all sorts of references to the Lillywhites in the Manchester-based soap.

Well, as someone who trained for the ministry in Manchester and endured all sorts of prejudice there because he was a Londoner, it’s nice to see this happening.

Oh, whoops, sorry, I’m a Christian. I remember: I should forgive.

Tributes To Rosa Parks

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.

Shaun Murphy’s Faith

An interview by Matthew Syed with Shaun Murphy, the world snooker champion, appears in today’s Times. Here are the first two paragraphs:

Many attributed Shaun Murphy’s unswerving self-belief to his faith in God after he triumphed in the World Championship this year as a 150-1 outsider. It is a plausible theory. The 23-year-old is an unabashed biblical literalist who views the multicoloured world of snooker through the black and white prism of Christian fundamentalism.

“I am convinced that God has a plan for my life that encompasses success in snooker,” he said when I met him at the Royal Automobile Club in Pall Mall, the venue for today’s Pot Black Cup, where he faces Jimmy White in the first round. “Before matches, Clare (his wife) prays that God will anoint my hands so that I can play to my full potential.”

Two things struck me about these paragraphs. First is the attribution of Murphy’s belief that God had a plan for his life to ‘black and white … Christian fundamentalism’. Certainty makes you a fundamentalist. When I first read it my hackles rose against the reporter. But I have sat listening this morning to Scott McDermott preach about the need to avoid spiritual indecision in the face of a culture that would prefer us to be indecisive. So no wonder the journalist has to categorise Murphy like this. He’s captive to the culture.

Secondly, I love the prayer for the anointing of his hands so that he can play to his full potential. This takes ‘anointing’ out of the limited, churchy context it is too often constrained within right into the workplace and therefore the place of Christian witness. God bless you, Shaun.

Neil Young, When God Made Me

Neil Young was interviewed in November’s Word Magazine. They questioned him about his new CD Prairie Wind and in particular about a song called ‘When God Made Me’. Apparently it sounds like a hymn and the interviewer, Robert Sandall, goes on to ask him whether he is a Christian. He replies:

‘I don’t know. I don’t think so. I certainly don’t say, don’t be a Christian. Everybody needs something to hang their hat on. But I really don’t buy into any particular story. The Indians had something going on with their ‘great spirit’ as a term for God. They were more concerned with the trees, the grasslands, the animals and a sense of balance. It’s a pagan thing and there’s nothing bad about paganism. It only became bad because of the insecurity of the church. That song is about the self-righteousness that makes certain people think God created man in his own image. What a conceited idea! What about the squirrel? What happened to him? We’re all here together, we’re all nature. One big thing.’

A quote, then, that may continue to give the impression that this blog is turning into the squirrel blog (see last two entries). It would be easy to be smug with Young on his views, given that in the same interview he makes much of the importance of the full moon. ‘I am a strong believer in the full moon as a good time to be creative so I try to record all of my albums based on that timing. It’s an old thing in farming: if you plant on a full moon you’re going to get a good crop … when the moon starts waning is when everything starts falling apart … Look at the way the moon affects the water in tides. Since we’re mainly water we’re bound to be affected if we open ourselves up to it.’

Rather than dismiss Young due to those apparently strange views it would be better to look seriously at what he says. Of course as a Christian I don’t believe that the doctrine of God making humankind in his image is about conceit or arrogance: it’s an act of pure grace and it should not make us careless with the rest of creation. But the problem is, that is precisely the way it has been taken for centuries and we now have an environmental problem. It is an idea that still lingers in extreme conservative circles. I recall a few months ago reading a transcript online of an American TV interview featuring both Brian McLaren and Tim LaHaye in which the latter said that the environment was made for man – not a view McLaren shared.

Some Christians have wanted to anchor their doctrine of creation in a different place due to this misuse – see for example Creation Through Wisdom by Celia Deane-Drummond. But maybe we also need to rediscover the imago dei and interpret it in a more humble way. And such an interpretation will not be solely the task of lectures, seminars, books and journals, but the interpretation seen in human flesh. We need to hold this together with Young’s statement that ‘We’re all here together, we’re all nature’, except that I would just change that last word from ‘nature’ to ‘creation’.

Banning the Make Poverty History TV Ad

OFCOM, the regulatory quango, has banned the Make Poverty History TV ad, with celebrities clicking their fingers every three seconds to mark the death of another child. You can read their decision here.

Various sponsoring bodies of MPH are furious. (And you’ll have noticed from the banner on this blog that I support the campaign.) Ekklesia has condemned the decision as effectively partisan: why is it OK to ban MPH from TV commercials on political grounds but not those companies whose products cause the very problems MPH is campaigning against? Anthea Cox of the Methodist Church points out that decisions on poverty are necessarily political and involvement in the campaign by Christians has been a direct consequence of their faith.

All of which means the MPH ads are banned on the old grounds of religion and politics. You’re not supposed to talk about them in public if you’re British. Or so the theory goes.

OFCOM argues that MPH’s goals are ‘wholly or mainly political’ and maybe they are, but as Anthea Cox replies above, how can you avoid that? Furthermore, they say the commercial was directed towards influencing government policy and that’s against the relevant codes. Right. So it’s OK for a multinational to shell out money to send people to talk directly to Downing Street but you mustn’t do it on air.

OFCOM may or may not be applying the rules accurately but doesn’t the whole sorry affair stink of hypocrisy? In particular it’s the hypocrisy that keeps the rich wealthy and the poor destitute – the very things MPH opposes. Who wrote those rules, then? I wonder.

The Debt Trap

Jon Ronson has a powerful column in today’s Guardian about the tragedy of the debt mountain in our nation. He traces it back, not only to the scandalous behaviour of financial institutions in the way they target the most vulnerable, but to one man who admits he thought he was doing something good but unleashed a monster. That man is the well known evangelical Christian Lord Griffiths. He sounds repentant. I hope he is.</p.

But Lord Griffiths is no longer in political power. (He was an adviser to Margaret Thatcher.) Might we dare hope that another Christian politician, Gordon Brown, might make tackling this a priority?

And might we Christians tackle the underlying issues with a witness that you can be fulfilled without having all the latest things? Of course that would undermine our entire economy, which is not based on need but upon want …

London

I am a Londoner. Although neither I nor any of my relatives live there any more, today’s vile news has hit me hard. My father used to take the train each morning to Liverpool Street and then a tube to Aldgate East. My sister used to commute to Edgware Road. Friends used to go through King’s Cross to work. I once went for a job interview at Tavistock Square. When I came in at lunch-time and saw the TV news, I just said, “Evil.” I wanted to say something far worse. It was certainly in my heart. Only the presence of my small children stopped me.

I wanted to wish evil things on Osama bin Laden. Like a British judge sentencing him to life, but the prison warders allowing other prisoners to inflict a tortuous, slow death upon him. I had to fight to tell myself that I believe in a better way as a Christian. What that inner fight would have been like had I lost any loved ones in the atrocities, I don’t know.

I’ve offered up the odd prayer about what I shall preach on Sunday. What words, what hope can I give? Must there also be a challenge, with the risk of causing deep offence?

Then I stopped thinking about myself. I thought about Mr Kahn, who runs our little neighbourhood sub-post office. And I prayed that no-one would take it out on him. I prayed, too, for the Sikhs who now own the former Methodist church building nearby. After 9/11 British Sikhs were attacked. I pray for their protection now.

I pray, too, for those trained to help at times of disaster. Last night I was at a District Council meeting where we lamented a lack of volunteers among ministers to be undertake Critical Incident Volunteer training in Kent. London already has people trained – thank God.

And naturally I pray for the injured and the bereaved.

But I must pray, too, for the perpetrators. Yet it’s too easy to parrot the words of Jesus, “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing,” because to some extent these people do know what they’re doing.

Lord have mercy on us all.