Archive for August, 2006

that’s how the light gets in

Leonard Cohen has been called “The poet of the heart”. He’s certainly written some stunning love songs! But, for my money, he’s also written some of the most profoundly true theological lyrics I have come across. Take his song Anthem, for instance. It’s a song that deals with brokenness and grace. Cohen understands more clearly than anyone I know what Paul means when he talks about God’s strength “being made perfect in weakness”. Look at the words of the chorus:

Ring the bells that still will ring.
Forget your perfect offering –
there is a crack, a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in!

Isn’t that something? Forget perfection – you’re on a hiding to nowhere! And if God demands perfection as an “offering”, we’ve had it – we’re doomed to failure. It is of the nature of things that they are cracked and broken. Perfection is a fruitless quest. It’s the counsel of despair for broken, sinful human beings. It’s unattainable and unsustainable. And yet there’s hope, because God is a God of grace. Grace means that we are not abandoned to darkness, brokenness and despair. There is an offering to be made – an acceptable offering. It is made in brokneness but in celebration of what is not completely broken (“the bells that still will ring”). And what about the cracks? Why, that’s how the Light gets in!

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30 August, 2006 at 10:57 pm Leave a comment

the real problem with miracles ….

I’m grateful to Dave Faulkner for the following:

The BBC completes tonight a three-part series on The Miracles Of Jesus, fronted by Rageh Omaar. Miracles are a topic of conversation. But as one preacher commented in 1999:

If Jesus were alive today, he wouldn’t be allowed to get away with half the miracles he performed. It’s not just that we live in such a sceptical, rationalist age. It’s all the red tape as well. Here are a few examples:

Turning water into wine

This would provoke immediate protests from the drinks industry, who would argue that it was unfair competition, amounting to a monopoly. It would also be denounced by various Christian bodies as irresponsible and likely to lead to drunkenness.

Feeding the multitude

Serving bread and fish to thousands of people at an outdoor event would require the approval of government health inspectors, to ensure that the food had been prepared by qualified food handlers in a hygienic environment. Baskets of leftovers would also need to be disposed of properly.

Walking on water

This could only be done if it were preceded by a disclaimer that nobody should try this at home, particularly not children or young people.

The miraculous catch of fish

Fish stocks are now rigorously conserved to protect against over-fishing, and such large catches would undoubtedly exceed the fishermen’s quotas, leading to stiff penalties.

Healing a man born blind

This apparent act of kindness would lead to all sorts of problems with the government Benefits Agency. All disability benefit would immediately be stopped, and the man in question would probably face an investigation into whether his previous claims had been genuine.

Raising the dead

Environmental health officers wouldn’t be happy about this one, as there are stringent rules governing the proper disposal of bodies. There would also be major difficulties when the recently deceased tried to use their credit cards.
[Simon Coupland, Spicing Up Your Speaking, #75 p187f.]

17 August, 2006 at 1:13 pm Leave a comment

a “must go-see”!

Check out Ben Myers’ post on the worst liturgical innovations. He invites votes on them – and the responses make great reading! Add your own. Me? I went for the tacky liturgical greeting that I had to endure for a while in a church I was in: the minister welcomed us to the service in the name of Jesus Christ (acceptable!) but then asked us to “Turn to the person on your right and on your left, and greet them with the words, ‘Brother/sister, I love you with the love of the Lord!'” AAAAAARRRRRGHHHHHHH!!!!

17 August, 2006 at 12:14 pm Leave a comment

liberals & conservatives: a plague on both their houses!

I get really fed up with the intra-church wars that go on between liberals and conservatives! I’m sick of long, bitter and futile arguments over historicity in the bible that never get as far as probing the meaning and importance of the texts. I’m sick of evangelicals who privatise and inividualise faith so that it becomes some sort of gnostic “club”, with a tight theological “system”. They seem to think that God’s sole object in sending Jesus was to save “me” and provide me with a “salvation” that is suspiciously close to the ultimate in consumer products. I’m sick of liberals who spend all their time trying to explain why we cannot believe the things about God and Jesus that have always been fundamental to Christian faith, and why we ought to be following people like Jack Spong et al and concentrating all ourt efforts on a more “intellectually credible” faith. They cannot understand anything that smacks of a “passion for Jesus” and retreat into embarrassed silence at the suggestion that one couldn’t do better than to spend one’s life, priorities, energies and resources in service of Jesus Christ. Ironically, the Good News becomes equally parochial – appropriate only for western, “christianised” cultures! Oh – and I’m sick of the people who will read this and subject it to endless qualifications, rather than seeing it as a generalisation that nevertheless embodies some fundamental and disturning truths about the “wings” of our churches! Either the Good News of Jesus Christ embraces every possible area of human existence – public and private – or it isn’t Good News. And either it’s the very best news for a world in the grip of Bad News, and we ought to be telling everyone about it, or it isn’t, and we ought to stop pretending it is and do something more effective with our time, money and resources!

I’ve been reading Walter Brueggemann’s Biblical Perspectives on Evangelism: Living in a Three-Storied Universe (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1993, ISBN 0-687-41233-1). Let me cite him on this subject:

The subject of evangelism invites false disputes between liberals and conservatives … such [ideological] labels betray our understanding of the wholeness of life under the singleness of God’s purpose. With so-called conservatives, I agree that we must get our language right, to affirm that our evangelical language is for us realistic language, and we must not blink at the epistemological embarrassment of the gospel. With so-called liberals I agree that we must see our unembarrassed, realistic evangelical-Christological language is not isolated, specialised languange, but is public language concerned with public issues, uttered for the sake of public criticism and public possibility. Whenever liberals shrink from the epistemological scandal of the gospel and whenever conservatives shrink from the public dimension of the faithful language of the evangel, the gospel is distorted and the Bible is misread.

Way to go, Walter! Give it to ’em with both barrels! He’s right! And he goes on to be even more importantly right:

I submit that in our time, so-called conservatism is an attempt to reduce the danger of the Bible to confessional safety (I just love that phrase!!!), and so-called liberalism is an attempt to avoid the dramatic system-shattering claim of the gospel (stunning!!!). I submit that so-called conservatives and so-called liberals might well return to the shared, concrete language practice of the Bible to learn again that the utterance of the name fo God (or the name of Jesus) is endlessly subversive, polemical, risk-taking (Jesus Christ, he’s right!). Indeed, I suggest that our scholastic debates about liberalism and conservatism are simply smoke screens to protect our vested interests and to fend off the danger and threat of the gospel (O that we might learn to find the gospel “dangerous” and “threatening”). Or conversely the reduction of the gospel to our favorite (Hey, he’s American! Leave him alone!) political slogan is a refusal to let the unfettered news of God have its say. The gospel news of changed governance in all of creation is more radical, demanding, and empowering than any of us can readily imagine, embrace, or domesticate.

Isn’t this one of the most important tasks for us as churches – to rediscover that shared biblical practice, rather than struggling with everything we have to reduce the bible and the gospel – oh, and God to boot – to more manageable proportions? And when we’ve done that, it would be mighty difficult to be a church with nothing to say that engages the world.

15 August, 2006 at 12:11 pm 5 comments

who says politics ain’t black & white?

It would be funny if it wasn’t so tragically real!

15 August, 2006 at 1:26 am Leave a comment

making war on kids

I watched Sky news. Beirut families were pouring out of a block of flats that was under attack. They fled to a school, thinking they’d be safe there – but they weren’t. Shells started landing nearby. Now the children were streaming from the school, crazed with terror. One little girl – she looked about 9 – stood, screaming and swaying, clearly in hysterics. She was petrified. A man – presumably one of the teachers, came up to her and yelled at her to snap her out of it. She flinched, rocking back as a boxer would to avoid a blow.

What is going on with the world? How can war be made on children without every adult being so ashamed and shocked that we stop? I don’t mean that naively. I fought a war. I know that we include womane and children and other civilians in our war-making. We’re not surprised when when they’e on the casualty lists. Yet, however much we protest, we have to face the fact that we accept that we make war on kids. Cos if we didn’t – if we were as outraged and soul-sick as we ought to be – we’d do something about it!

3 August, 2006 at 1:39 pm Leave a comment


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