Saturday, March 31, 2007

God 'n' Rock 'n' Roll

Finally caught up this week with a program we videoed at Christmas on God and pop music. It was presented by Channel 4's resident 'radical theologian', Robert Beckford. Normally I'm arguing with the TV 5 minutes into his programmes, this time it took about an hour.

The first bit looked at the shared roots of gospel, spirituals, blues and rock and roll in the early 20th century, and how an early generation of 'pop stars' grew up out of a Pentecostal background and were just at home singing gospel songs as they were singing rock and roll. There was a great moment listening to a jam session of Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and another famous guy singing spirituals for 2 hours, because they were the songs they all knew.

The programme seemed to go off the rails once we reached 1970, and focused on the culture wars between the American Christian right and various occult-inspired or shock value artists like Led Zeppelin and Marilyn Manson. Cliff was wheeled out as the token Christian artist, along with a bit of 'Mistletoe and Wine' just to remind us what 'Christian' music sounds like.

There was just a vast, gaping hole in the middle of all this, which Beckford barely touched on:
  • plenty of artists, mainly black, who sing about God and Jesus just as readily as they do about anything else - Kanye West, Black Eyed Peas, Destiny's Child, Whitney Houston etc., there is a whole section of the music industry which doesn't split into 'God versus youth culture' the way that Beckford presented it.
  • Another group who are using music to process their religious upbringing, e.g. Martin Gore of Depeche Mode, or (more controversially) Madonna, even the Happy Mondays - trying to make sense of where they've come from and where they are. The single 'Irish Son' by former Westlifer Brian McFadden told the story of his rejection of his Catholic schooling and upbringing in Ireland, yet still seems to be struggling with faith.
  • The plethora of (often white) artists who use music to explore spiritual issues, which has been going on for ages: David Bowie ('if you pray all your sins are hooked upon the sky') to Coldplay ('we're part of a system, a plan') to Robbie Williams ('I've given up on praying, so this song will have to do'), Nick Cave, etc.
  • And of course there are still plenty of mainstream artists who have a strong Christian faith which comes through to a greater or lesser degree in their music - Daniel Bedingfield, U2, and so on.

Maybe he'll make a sequel....

On music and God, my frustration, as a Christian and a rock music lover, is that there are so few examples of decent worship bands who are also decent rock bands. I have lost count of the number of limp 'worship songs' I've heard on tape or CD, and to be honest I find listening to Coldplay or Deacon Blue a stack more uplifting than most worship music just because its well crafted and its passionate.

There, a few hares running. feel free to comment with any bands I've missed (of which there'll be plenty), or if you think I'm being unfair on Christian worship CDs.

gambling (its compulsive)

Sorry, but I get so angry at the governments gung-ho attitude to gambling, and having seen families break up because one was addicted to betting, I find this whole casino thing monstrous. So.....

Full House: the Lords, who voted out the supercasino bill by 3 during the week.

Knave: Lord Carey, aka the previous Archbishop of Canterbury, who missed the vote because he was watching a film. Sorry, but if you're going on Question Time on national TV, and you know it's likely to be a big story, and it's going to be a close vote, that just doesn't strike me as clever. Ok, I'm not a retired AB of C, and I'm sure Amazing Grace is a good film, but what if the bill had got through by 1 vote instead of lost by 3?

Ace: another bishop, James Jones, who suggested on Thought for the Day that if gambling was such a good way of sorting out urban regeration, perhaps the council leaders from Blackpool and Manchester should simply play a game of poker, and the winner gets the casino.

2 of Clubs: Gordon Brown, who raised some of his gambling taxes in the budget. Not to deter gambling of course, but to raise income. More gambling = more income.

The other thing which clashes is that all this goes on whilst the death of Bob Woolmer is still being investigated. One of the popular theories, which is still speculation so who knows, is that it involved people linked to the betting industry, who made money out of match-fixing which Woolmer planned to expose. A feature on the radio this week - highlighted the problem of illegal gambling in cricket, and how hard it was to control. It just seems bizarre that we know that betting ruins lives but yet our government wants to see more of it.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Easter Linebacker

I don't really understand the rules of American Football, but if your sense of humour is anything like mine, you'll love this. See if you can get your minister to show this on Easter Sunday. I'm tempted to use it for a school assembly...

sorry no picture, just click on this link and enjoy.

Saturday, March 24, 2007


200th anniversary of the Royal Assent to the bill to abolish slavery tomorrow. A great achievement for Wilberforce and others, though I learnt today that it took another 26 years to get slavery banned in the colonies. Good for the campaigners for not giving up. They must have felt like sitting back and having a couple of pints after 1807, rather than pressing on, but press on they did.

The Bible is riddled with stories of people who were succesful in the medium term but lost it in the long term. David established Israel as a military power but then took his eye off the ball and failed to prepare his children for the succession. Solomon was a great builder and visionary but, like his father, his eye for women meant that he finished badly. Gideon, Samson, and so on - plenty of people who started well, but perhaps took their foot off the pedal after they'd been succesful. Success has two horizons, achieving the big wins now, and finishing well so that the legacy you leave is sustainable. And no, I'm not going to start talking about Blair here....

How many churches have got stuck at an earlier success and not gone on to complete the work God gave them? How many ministries or movements have got stuck with what looked like the great move of the Spirit, not realising that the Spirit doesn't do monuments. There's a saying that any movement can become a monument, and monuments can become mausoleums.

Jesus does not want your church, or my church, to survive. That's not what he's taught us to pray for. The prayer is 'your kingdom come' - that is the finish line, and any church or Christian without their eyes on the finish line will be tempted to stop part way through the race and pull up a deckchair.

The best bit of leadership training I ever did was a course called Arrow, run by CPAS, which I thoroughly recommend. They talked a lot about 'finishing well', about not letting our early enthusiasm and drive in ministry be dissipated. The various dangers (lets see if I can remember them) included levelling out, wearing out, dropping out, and dabbling (getting distracted from the main thing by lots of minor things). True success includes not only sustaining yourself in ministry (things like keeping a prayer life; accountability; setting goals; balancing work, renewal, family and rest; keeping short accounts with sin), but investing in others so our own passions, dreams and visions continue to inspire others after we've gone. It's a great testimony to Wilberforce that 200 years on, he can still inspire us. With over 12m slaves and a $7bn slave trade to tackle, we need all the inspiration we can get.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Kids stuff

2 things to say about children:

Ofsted - please leave the children alone, instead of coming up with 500 developmental milestones for them to reach by the age of 3, and inspecting childminders and kindergartens. JUST LET THE POOR LITTLE THINGS ENJOY LIFE BEFORE YOU SHOVE THEM INTO THE EDUCATIONAL MINCER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Much is made of the '5 outcomes' of the governments childrens policy ('every child matters'). The one entitled 'enjoying and achieving', which is the only one that children might actually want for themselves, is, when you look at the detail, all about attending school and passing the governments tests at the highest possible level. So lets be honest and retitle the agenda: 'Every Child Matters to the Treasury' - it's all about churning out economically productive units, who when they go on to have children can drop them off at the local 'extended school' from 8am to 6pm so that they can stay in the labour market and let the state provided 'carers', with Ofsted watching their every move, look after our children for us.

In the words of the prophet Jim Trott of Dibley: no no no no no no no no no no no no.......... no.

On a more positive front, here is a cracking link to resources for working with children, lots of different things written by some of the top people in UK childrens work, absolute goldmine.

Paddy power, failure, and so on

Religion and sport. What happens when they mix? I for one am pretty good at singling out things which make Christianity look good, and trying to ignore things which make it look bad. So when Brazil won the world cup a few years ago and took off their team tops to reveal half a dozen 'I love Jesus' t-shirts, I smiled and carved a mental notch on the fence post. When Hansie Cronje, South African cricket captain and committed Christian was found guilty of match fixing in blaze of publicity, that was a bit harder to process.

So when Ireland, on St. Patricks day (and what a great saint and missionary he was), beat Pakistan (the most overtly religious team in world cricket, with a very high profile convert from Christianity to Islam as their premier batsman), what are we to make of it? In their news conference, the Pakistani captain put the result down to the fates not being with them. That's always a good cop-out for a religious system which has two powers - God gets the credit when things go well, and the fates cop it when things fall to bits. I guess there are plenty of Christians who do the same dualistic trick with God and the devil, and at times I've been one of them.

But in the end this isn't right. If all the important things, like cricket results and life in general, are down to whichever of the great spiritual forces is having a better day, where does that leave humans? One of the things I never felt happy with in charismatic circles was the tendency to praise God for everything good and blame the devil for everything bad - not just at a macro level, but in terms of individual lives. The individual human person disappears in this scenario, we become just an empty playing field where the big spiritual beasts battle it out.

I can't accept that, for two reasons:
1. It flies in the face of human value. God made us special, and we have unique value and worth. To turn us into a background canvas for a spiritual battle fought by other agents devalues humanity.
2. It gets us off the hook too easily. Once we blame our failures on the devil, or on fate, or on God's will, or on any other impersonal power, we absolve ourselves of responsibility. Maybe we have made it so hard for people to fail (look at the coverage today on Andrew Flintoff, England cricketer, for a nightime indiscretion) that we'd rather cover our tracks and find some other agency to blame, instead of putting our hands up. Challenge to the church - lets become a safe place for people to botch it. They'll come flooding in.....

And until we have failed, and accepted our failure, we will never change. Any church which shrugs and sighs and blames culture for its own decline will continue to decline. Any individual who really believes that 'the devil made me do it' will be prone to do it again, until they grow up and accept reponsibility. One trick children learn early is how to avoid blame and pass it on to to others. I don't think Jesus was talking about that when he said we had to become like children to enter the Kingdom. That is Genesis 3 stuff, 'it was him/her/snakeeyes over there'. Maturity says 'it was me.' (One rider to this - it's possible also to accept too much blame, and the strong are very good at getting the weak into this position. Look at the number of abuse victims who blame themselves for their situation, because they've been succesfully manipulated by the abuser.)

One of the good things about Lent is that it allows us to see failure as the starting point of spiritual growth. As a season of pentitence, it's actually ok to think about ourselves as sinners, not in some morbid, bash myself over the head with a wet hymn book kind of way, but in a positive way. Positive? Sure - Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, so the only way to get access to the grace and Spirit of Jesus is to accept that I'm a sinner. Once we can honestly say how we've blown it, then the Spirit of Jesus can blow through us and help us to grow up into fullness in Christ. The Spirit doesn't take over, we can recieve him or resist him at will, but he makes it possible for us to change, grow, and fail better next time. Or even win.

P.S. So hats off, then to the Independent, which today on its front page admitted it's been wrong to campaign for the legalisation of cannabis for the last 10 years. Maybe we should have a repentance amnesty, where ever public figure or newspaper is allowed to say it was wrong about one thing, without anyone having a go at them.

P.P.S Awful news, the death of Bob Woolmer, Pakistan coach, former England cricketer, earlier today. If it had anything to do with the abuse heaped on the Pakistan team after their defeat by Ireland, then all the more tragic. A very sad loss.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Hot Fuzz

Final posting today. Saw the film 'Hot Fuzz' this week, and no, it has no spiritual message whatsoever. Great fun though, there's something brilliant about seeing Wells used as the backdrop to a 'High Noon' style shootout.

Another good thing about the film is that it doesn't treat you like a film critic. If it's parodying another film, they let you know which one, so you don't sit there thinking 'duh? what's that all about?' It could do without some of the blood and guts, but its a very good English comedy. I wonder how many of the local hoodies have tried to re-enact the gun fight at the Somerfields meat counter?

New Links

After putting it off for months, I've finally updated my links, as having just 4 was pretty pathetic. It was interesting to discover, whilst checking I linked to all the Yeovil churches with a web page, that there are plans for a Yeovil Vineyard church. You heard it here first. A good sign is that their homepage talks of being part of 'The Church' in Yeovil and links to several of the churches currently working here. Another part of the jigsaw?

Mission questions

During the week I was asked a question to which, in a rare moment of inspiration, I replied "that's too good a question to answer". Once a question is answered, it can be boxed and safely put away, but without an answer it can wander around, making a nuisance of itself, being a creative free agent. Jesus loved questions, and when people asked him a question he never gave them a straight answer.

So, what are some good mission questions?

London mega mosque

This came by email from some friends this week

This calls for urgent action concerning the ' Mega-Mosque ' in East London .

Muslims are voting in droves from all over the country in favour. The Evening Standard will be publishing the results. At present 67 % are in favour and barely 40 % against. Please vote and send out to others to do so. Vote on

I understand that the building of the Mosque entails the compulsory purchase of a large number of houses and some churches around the Mosque area plus the space required to build the mosque. This same mosque has links to a banned group (banned because of terror links) and in addition to this the largest Christian church in the country (in nearby Hackney) cannot get its local council to provide them with a property after their church is compulsorily purchased to make way for the 2012 Olympics, which smacks of double standards to me!

comment: this isn't the 1st concern to be raised about the 'mega mosque', and probably won't be the last. I don't know how much sway Evening Standard polls carry in the scheme of things, but I voted 'no' anyway. In the same week that a prominent Muslim organisation issued schools with dozens of by-laws about the way Muslim pupils should be treated, the accusation that many Muslims are looking for a 'state within a state' within Britain accrues more and more evidence. With a spiritual vacuum at the heart of public life, a government more committed to overtly secular policies, and a political culture which involves bending over backwards to accomodate any religious minority as long as it's not Christian, the clouds on the horizon are building.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

lunar eclipse

Lots of pictures at

Jonah, reluctant missionary

Preaching on Jonah tomorrow, and trying to think about 50 different things at once. Random thoughts.

1. God is the missionary
Not exactly a new insight. The book of Jonah is a reminder that God is not a tribal deity, but the creator of everything, and he has the same bearing of mercy towards those horrible Ninevites as He does towards his chosen people. God's people always need to be reminded that God is a missionary, that the reason He has blessed us is so that we can share the blessing, not hoard it.

2. This is difficult for a settled church to hear.
I spent the day in a local village, with our Diocesan missioner and people from 5 local churches. In conversation, it became clear that people knew their thinking needed to change from 'here we are, come to us', to 'God loves everyone, and we must go to them'. A settled church with buildings, by-laws, service rotas and brass to polish will always absorb a certain amount of energy on self-maintenance before it thinks about directing its energies outwards. It takes a massive change of mind to put mission first and shape everything else around that.

3. The devil can put us off mission by getting us to read the Daily Mail
God's heart in Jonah is compassion - even for rebellious Jonah, as well as for the pagan sailors and the wicked Ninevites. All get a second chance, God's desire for all of them is to change direction and go the right way. But Jonah tries his best to blow it. Why? Because he reads the Daily Mail and doesn't like the Ninevites. They're different. They're The Enemy. They are What's Wrong With Society Today.
In our scapegoating culture, we can be unaware of how much resentment and hatred gets built in our hearts towards people who God loves. Young people, old people, single mums, gays, gypsies, immigrants, traditionalists, radicals, lefties, conservatives, you name it, we all have a label for people who aren't like us, and some vague but passionately believed reason for giving them less respect and compassion than anyone else. God isn't like this. He only chooses people as special so that they can tell others - from Abraham onwards, being the 'holy' people means being chosen to bless all the nations.

4. We need to be awake to the 'kairos' moment.
Probably the main thing I'll say tomorrow about Jonah is that it is about repentance. Everyone in Jonah faces a 'kairos' moment, an opportune moment, a chance to change direction. God gives everyone a chance. There's a helpful diagram in the Passionate Life book by Breen & Kallestad, picturing repentance as a circle - observe & reflect (repent), decide and act (believe), and as something we can apply to any decision, not just ones to do with God.

5. We can be wrong.
Jonah claims to be a 'Hebrew, I worship the Lord the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land' (1 v9, which, incidentally, rules out God creating Yeovil because it seems to rain nearly all the time here). He's a worshipper, a good churchgoing guy. But he has none of God's heart for the world, he hasn't thought through the creed he parrots every week that God is the creator of everything, and when God speaks to him he does the opposite.
I recognise a lot of myself in Jonah. I don't do what God tells me. I am in danger of getting dulled by the words and songs I use every week to just what being a worshipper is all about. As a missioner I say all the right stuff about who God is but I know I'm nowhere near thinking or acting it through. And I'm not sure whether I love people, or just enjoy their company and occasionally wonder if they could be added to the church, or (if they're in the church) help with one of my pet projects. I probably wouldn't be this honest if I wasn't writing late on a Saturday.

6. The Psalms are not just nice words
Jonahs' experience is a living Psalm 139. You know the one. Cue pictures of fluffy dogs or sunlit mountains 'if I settle on the farthest side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me'. Jonah doesn't want Gods hand to guide him. He wants, the fool, to go to a place where God isn't, to get away from all this prophet stuff so he can have a quiet life with his prejudices. But God is going to guide him anyway. Try reading Psalm 139 as Jonah on the boat, surveying the storm, knowing that he's tried to flee from God and failed, and even if he throws himself into the sea and dies, God will pursue him to the bottom of the ocean.

7. Learn from your pets.
The fish is more obedient than Jonah. Jonahs is told to go to Nineveh, and runs away. The fish, meanwhile, is spoken to by God, and immediately vomits Jonah onto the shore. I once did a reasearch degree on Matthew Fox, who had all sorts of bizarre ideas, one of which was that his spiritual director was his dog. But he did have a point - from pets, as from children, we learn a lot about how best to live life: obey the Master, enjoy yourself, give and recieve love without inhibition, exercise regularly etc. If you're struggling with reading the Bible at the moment, put it down and watch your pet for 10 minutes. If you don't have a pet, find a picture of an animal.

8. Just do it.
If God tells you to do something, you have a choice.
a) do it straightaway
b) do the opposite straightaway, in which case you'll end up doing what God wanted you to do in the first place, but covered in whale vomit.