Monday, July 30, 2007
John Simpson on suffering
Fresh Expressions of disagreement
Sunday, July 29, 2007
I think that now makes 3 church leaders blogging in Yeovil, Nigel Coke-Woods being the other. St. Johns Yeovil has gone one better and put all their sermons on the web. If you want to be edified, go to http://www.sjayeovil.co.uk/ and click on 'Sermons and Talks'
Unfortunately, Blogger, who host this site, have got rid of the feature which allows you to click any word in someone's profile and see who else mentions it. I used this a few months ago to find out who else was blogging in Yeovil, but it's now disabled. If anyone knows of any other new Yeovil blogs done by Christians, let me know.
Thursday, July 26, 2007
"Where does it come from, this quest... this need to solve life's mysteries when the simplest of questions can never be answered?
Why are we here?
What is the soul?
Why do we dream?
Perhaps we'd be better off not looking at all: not delving, not yearning.
But that's not human nature, not the human heart. That is not why we are here.
Yet still we struggle to make a difference, to change the world, to dream of hope, never knowing for certain who we will meet along the way...who among the world of strangers will hold our hand... touch our hearts...and share the pain of trying."
And immediately we are into a multilayered drama which seems to be asking spiritual questions, woven around a kaleidoscope of characters who all seem to be discovering supernatural powers around the time of a solar eclipse. What links them, and how they might be able to come together to stop a nuclear explosion in New York (predicted by one of the number who foretells the future with his paintings), seems to be the initial set-up. There's stuff about destiny, value, gifts and calling etc. Unfortunately they couldn't resist throwing in a serial killer storyline, and as its a TV drama the killer has to go about his business in a more gruesome and bizarre way than the serial killer in the last TV series. So I won't be watching any more, which I have mixed feelings about - I'd like to watch it, but I'd also like to watch TV that doesn't leave me feeling polluted.
In the meantime, it's fun to work out how many other shows Heroes borrow from to make it's own cake: mysterious symbols (Lost), humans evolving into having super-powers (X-men), shadowy suited men trying to thwart the heroes (X-files, Matrix), the heroes having a mysterious destiny that they still have to discover (Matrix), a race against time (24), the mass cast with multiple back stories (Lost), and so on.
The good news is that, since it's already been shown in the USA, if you want to know what happens without having to look at dismembered bodies just go to http://www.tv.com/heroes/show/17552/summary.html
and there's a blow by blow account of every episode.
Deathly Hallows discussions
Harry Potter, Catholic Boy looks like it was posted a while ago, but is v helpful in getting into the symbolism of the books and what some of the Latin stuff really means. Lupin as St. Francis? Enlightening.
http://hogwartsprofessor.com/ has some pretty profound discussions going on, which get a bit beyond me once folk start talking about the parallels in Greek mythology, but plenty to chew on and respond to here.
Hollywood Jesus, who do a lot of good stuff on film and culture, posted this article after book 6 on Harry as a Christ figure, makes interesting reading in the light of book 7!
a thread from the 'sword of griffindor' blog explores whether HP experiences parallel temptations to those of Matthew 4. In fact, once people have drawn the conclusion that Rowling is a new Tolkien/Lewis they seem to see allegories of Jesus everywhere... There's also this article http://swordofgryffindor.com/2007/06/08/loving-lupin-dumbledore-harry-and-jesus/ which also looks at the Christian angle.
Is JK Rowling a Christian? is explored here. This blog, http://beholdaphoenix.blogspot.com/ is dedicated to Christian themes in Harry Potter and has links to similar sites elsewhere. The author posted on the site, 2 days before the book release, a speculation that HP would die and rise again. 10 points.
soon I'll just start posting about normal stuff again.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Interesting to see that the Harry/Jesus/Aslan connection has been picked up in the discussion threads at Leaky Cauldron and the other main HP fan sites. Some of the tone seems to be 'couldn't Rowling think of a better way to wrap things up?', and maybe the fact one of the most creative and original storytellers of her generation falls back on the death/resurrection motif says that really, you can't top the old old story.
Another theme which has been buzzing around for me in the last day or two, of the absent saviour. For most of the book Harry is pursuing his own quest to destroy Voldemort in secret, hiding away for fear of discovery and capture. His absence creates space for others to step into leadership and to grow into their potential. One small group starts up a pirate radio station, another trio takes on the leadership of the resistance at Hogwarts. We see a significant stage in the growth of one character (Neville), who in book 1 is portrayed as a wimpy weakling, into someone who is strong, courageous, and a leader of others. He's got there through the encouragement of friends (Harry and co), and his own hard work at overcoming his weaknesses, as well as discovering what he is good at. By the end of the book, he is a professor at the school.
Lots of links there to how the disciples are challenged to keep faith with Jesus even when he wanders off, or does things they don't understand, and how God's people as a whole before, and after Jesus, face the challenge of keeping faith with a saviour who we don't see, but have to trust. We carry on doing his work, in the hope that he will return and complete the job. In the meantime, the very absence of the saviour creates space for God's people to grow into their full potential. 'You will bear much fruit, because I am going to the Father'.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
the ad for this years main Alpha launch in the autumn. Clever. Had a planning meeting for a town-wide launch for Alpha in Yeovil today, lasted 5 minutes on the steps of the church as we couldn't get in. Uncomfortable, but highly efficient!
I heard from a couple of people recently, musing on the awful floods, that there'd been some kind of prophecy about flooding in London which came out last year. Doing a web search turned it up easily enough, the link is at
“We see the need to warn and to prepare for major flooding from the Thames - covering significant areas of the London flood plain - inclusive of the financial centre of the city. It is foreseen that this will be of sufficient magnitude to cause damage and destruction to property - necessitating the relocation of people from the area. There would be an attendant risk of injury and even loss of life, in flooding of this nature. Consequential to this would be disruption to residential, governmental and commercial life in the affected areas. The urgency we feel in the release of this is communication is due to our belief that the above events are imminent”.
This was all about 17 months ago, and I'm reluctant to call an 'act of God' floods that have
happened 100 miles to the West and somewhat later than predicted. Mind you, if warnings of floods had been taken seriously, say, 17 months ago, then that might have enabled more to be done to protect the people who've suffered this week. I'm also with the Archbishop of York who noted that the real acts of God were the acts of service and help offered by normal people to their needy neighbours.
It takes a lot of guts (or, strangely, humility - you have to be prepared to look foolish), to go public with something like this, because once you're on record, your reputation goes on record too. At the same time, it begs the question of what we think of God. Does He still speak to nations (as He does in the Bible), or mainly to individuals? If so, how - to rebuke, warn, guide, and how on earth would we know anyway?
Stranger still, due for release into cinemas in a week or two is Evan Almighty, the sequel to Bruce Almighty, in which an American congressman is told by God, in person, to build an ark in the middle of the US mainland. Cue lots of animals, and (I assume), water. It's interesting to muse on how animals and humans have coped with the floods. The animals can move into another field, and it becomes home pretty much as the last one did. We humans, meanwhile, have built our physical roots into the soil with concrete and bricks, and are so anchored to a particular bit of earth that we can't relocate quite so easily, and as a result lose nearly every possession we have.
Another picture stuck with me from last nights news - a bit of rail track with all the subsoil washed away, so that it literally hung over space. The floods ask the question of what our lives are built over, what happens when those things are eroded and swept away. Back to the gravestones in Harry Potter - where your treasure is, there is your heart also. If your treasure is washed away....
Praise God the waters are receding, lets continue to pray for better weather, and for those whose homes have been deluged.
Monday, July 23, 2007
Deathly Hallows 2
Plot spoilers follow.
1. Question: why is Snape's picture not on the wall in the headmasters study when Harry goes there at the end of the battle, given that he's a deceased Hogwarts headmaster?
2. Question: how does Griffindors sword end up in the Sorting Hat, given that it was last seen in possession of a goblin, or does it belong to the school and just magically turn up when it's needed.
3. Families valued: there are virtually no broken families in these books. There are orphans aplenty, or people in single parent families because parents have died, but I can't think of a single major character who is from a divorce or broken relationship. I don't know whether this is significant, given Rowlings experience as a single parent and her advocacy of support for single parent families.
4. Bruce Almighty: if you've seen this film, Bruce dies, goes to a white place, talks with God, gets sent back. Harry 'dies', goes to a white place, talks with Dumbledore, is given the choice to go back. Maybe the difference is the significant thing here, because all along in HP it's about the choices you make. Harry's choice first to die for his friends (which protects them) and then to go back to finish the job (which delivers them), are key.
5. Cross and resurrection: a hero offering his life to save others, or someone back from the grave (or near certain death) to save everyone, are such regular motifs in film, book and drama that we often hardly notice them, or the way they play on the Christian roots of our imaginations. I'm struggling, though, to think of a single piece of work which has both the substitutionary death and the 'resurrection' working together as they do in Deathly Hallows. Both of them are crucial to Deathly Hallows, just as they are crucial to the gospel - Jesus atoning death is not complete without his resurrection, which vindicates him, makes him Lord of all creation, and is a precursor to the same power of resurrection being at work among his followers.
6. Choice of tactics isn't always just about tactics: Harry faces a choice at one point between 2 ways of defeating Voldemort: one is the way he's been asked to take by Dumbledore, the other is a way he's uncovered, with clues left by Dumbledore, which would seem to make him invincible to death. In the end Harry chooses the path of obedience (and also the path with the greatest cost). Choice of tactics is also about obedience, integrity, and character - Harry's greatness is that he never seeks power for it's own sake, his focus is on doing what is good and right, not on accumulating weaponry to do what is good and right, but which itself will corrupt him. He gives up the Elder Wand at the end because he's not interested in power or greatness. Rowling makes the point in the book that it's those who have greatness or leadership thrust upon them, rather htan those who aspire to it, who are most suited to greatness. Not sure if that's always true - Churchill seemed determined to be great, and achieved it, but was also the right leader at the right time.
7. Friendship and community: Harry has recognised at the end that going it alone doesn't work - he leaves instructions with Neville to finish the job if he's not able to do it himself. Shades of Jesus commissioning Peter? He recognises that there has to be a team of 3, whether he is part of that team or not. Rowling never highlights it, but by the time all the Horcruxes are destroyed, Harry has only every destroyed one of them (Riddles diary), and even then didn't really know what he was doing. Every horcrux is destroyed by someone different - Dumbledore, Ron, Hermione, Neville, Crabbe (unintentionally - bit of a deus ex machina that bit), and Voldemort himself (if I understand the last bit right). On one level it's a solo quest, but actually it's a team effort.
8. Great magic: some cracking imaginitive stuff here. I particularly like the bit in Gringotts, the goblin bank, where to protect stuff from being stolen any treasure which is touched instantaneously multplies into dozens of worthless replicas and becomes scorching hot. Great parable on money there, though now that Rowling is worth millions, I wonder if she'd agree with her own prose. I guess it's more about the desire for treasure and what it does to you and your attitude to money, rather than having money per se.
9. Human behaviour - the sense of anticipation of people wanting to get the book and know how the series ends caught me up as well. I got my book at about 7am on Saturday and finished it last night. What's this all about? Something to do with secrets (witness the massive amounts of online speculation about the plot and what might happen) being revealed, something to do with wanting to be the first to know what's going on (aren't we all?), and something to do with the gripping nature of the novels themselves. The cliffhanger ending is a stock part of any serial, soap etc., all the more so a cliffhanger which leaves you waiting for 2 years.
10. Not in front of the children. My 4 1/2 year old wanted to know all about this book that Daddy was reading, and asked me to read her some of it. Given that someone dies, or is maimed, in just about every chapter (the wikepedia article on the book suggests something like 50-60 deaths), I searched in vain in the section I was in to find something that wasn't either too nasty, or too much about spells and wizards, to read to her. This is a different book, for a different audience, from book 1 - the writing has grown up with the audience, and this is more of a horror book in some places than a childrens fantasy adventure. It would be interesting to re-read the Narnia books, before I get too squeamish, to see how they compare for content and levels of violence.
11. Following on from the last posting on the book, the Bible quotations aren't followed up, though musing on 'where your treasure is, there will your heart be also' in the light of Harry and Voldemorts actions is, in some senses, the subtext for the finale of the book.
finally, clever way of closing the book, which takes us to an adult Harry and an intervening 19 years where nothing has happened, is a good way of shutting the door on any 'what's going to happen to him now' stuff.
if you read it, what did you think of it?
A group of 9 church leaders, from 6 different denominations, met on Saturday morning to think and pray about how we respond to the new developments. Yeovil already has the appearance of a doughnut (Cerne Homer (see below), back off, not that sort of doughnut) of a core of neighbourhoods with a high density of churches, surrounded by a ring of neighbourhoods with little or no local church presence to speak of. Two of the estates will have, as their 'local' church, village churches with congregations of 4-6 which are physically cut off from the estates, with established village congregations and ways of doing things.
Astoundingly, and as a fantastic answer to prayer, we came away after eating, talking and praying together with complete agreement on the outlines of a strategy, and initital commitments from each church to make a practical contribution. The basic idea is small teams of Christians, drawn from local churches, who move onto the new estates with the intention of being the nucleus of a new Christian community for those areas. Rather than seek to plant a church - going in with a predetermined idea of what the end result will be - the aim is to be there to serve the community, to share the good news of the love of God, and to see what emerges. It could be a new church (i.e. worshipping community, not a building) for that community, it could be something else.
With building work starting, possibly, in 2008, the next phase is to talk about this to our churches, and to get to work on some of the more knotty issues to do with oversight, who will lead what, how exactly do we go about this and give it the best chance of success. With Yeovil, very likely, expanding in small clumps of housing rather than in vast new estates, we need to find ways of being God's people in smaller communities than the traditional urban parish, combining the strengths of good town-wide churches with good neighbourhood churches. To find such a large cross-section of churches in agreement with this vision, and willing to do something about it, has been great.
2 other little stories: one local church, with whom we'd had little contact, was mentioned during the morning, and we expressed a hope of making some kind of a link with them. On the way home one of the people at the meeting met a man who turned out to be a member of this church, and they got talking....
A few weeks ago I emailed Anglican Church Planting Initiatives, who are the national experts in church planting stuff for Anglicans, and said we were looking at how to go about mission to new communities of 1500-2000 residents with up to 9 partner churches from 6 different streams/denominations, and was there anyone else who'd done this that we could learn from? They said no, there wasn't! It's such fun being a pioneer........
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
The director of 'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix' faced the unenviable task of condensing a massive book into a watchable film. At the same time given the almost unremitting grimness of the book, there was a need to keep at least a bit of humour, to make sure that the seam of humour in JK Rowlings juxtaposition of a wizards world right next to 'normal' society kept being mined.
In fact, the main problem in the film is that there are too many key characters. The cast list is now such a roll call of top drawer British actors, with new ones being added every film (Helena Bonham Carter and Imelda Staunton in this one, among others), that it's hard to give them all screen time. Characters such as Robbie Coltranes Hagrid, or Alan Rickmans fantastic Severus Snape, only get a couple of minutes each, sometimes in chapters which don't seem to move the plot forward much.
The biggest amount of screen time goes to the loathsome Dolores Umbridge, wonderfully played by Staunton, as a sadistic and legalistic teacher, imposed by the Ministry of Magic to bring Hogwarts into line. Otherwise, it's mainly about the children, and the good news is that they act well, and we're spared some of the more sentimental bits which spoiled the previous film. Stand out is the ethereal Luna Lovegood, a great bit of casting and playing.
The plot itself - if you don't already know it: Harry has seen the evil Voldemorts return (at the end of the last film) but nobody else has, so he spends most of the film trying to persuade a sceptical school/wizarding world that V is alive and active. At the same time he starts seeing into V's mind, but his mentor, Dumbledore, seems to be avoiding him. The first chink of light is the formation of 'Dumbledores Army', a group of students who recruit Harry as their teacher in Defense against the Dark Arts, as the school curriculum has been changed so that they no longer learn anything of practical value. Some of the Army accompany Harry on his main mission in the book - to find and save his godfather Sirius in the depths of the Ministry of Magic. Cue battles, lots of stuff breaking, a big showdown between Voldemort and Dumbledore, and the death of Harry's last family member, Sirius.
The films, as everyone says, have been getting progressively 'darker'. They are no longer stories about children playing and the wonder of discovery, tainted by the shadow of darker things. The absence of any Quidditch games is symptomatic of the transition to High School angst, and the discovery of the harshness of the adult world. Playtime is over. Harry, having seen death, now has new insights, but also new burdens. The student who seems to offer most understanding is Luna, who's also witnessed death - 'we comfort others with the comfort we ourselves have recieved'. He also feels betrayed by the adults: Dumbledore seems not to care, Hagrid is absent without explanation, and Umbridge seems to delight in making him suffer for 'lying' even though he's telling the truth.
One question the film raises is: how much truth can we bear to hear? Dumbledore claims he is trying to shield Harry, and Harry's insights into V's mind, through which he saves a life, eventually put him and his friends in great danger. As Umbridge is being taken off to her come-uppance by the centaurs, she calls to Harry 'tell them I mean no harm', and he responds, in the words of the lines she has made him write (into his own skin) 'I must not tell lies'.
How much a young person can be burdened with, and how much they need to be trusted, is a fine line which is walked all the way through the Potter series. In our own society, it's a big issue too: our young people are peppered with war, violence, pornography, messages about their bodies and appearance, the full weight of adult capitalist society bearing down on them - how do we support their struggle to tell the truth, to have integrity, to be loyal to friends, to take risks out of the courageous pursuit of great goods rather than simply out of boredom.
2 more films to go, though how they're going to make Deathly Hallows into anything less than a 4 hour epic I have no idea.....
Saturday, July 21, 2007
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Cerne Abbas Homer
Sing something sinful
"these are the days of Your servant David
rebuilding the temple of praise"
which, of course, David didn't do first time round - the inference from the song is that David built the original Temple for people to praise God, and he didn't. So the song is incorrect.
The dominoes started to topple. A song which has fallen out of use, but which also sprang to mind, is 'Jesus we celebrate your victory', which has the line
"and in His presence our problems disappear"
which is wrong in a different way - our problems don't disappear in God's presence, though we may get a new perspective on them, or new grace to bear them.
The next domino was the Vineyard song, 'Hungry', one of a quite large group of songs which describes what we (the singers) are doing as we sing it....
"I'm falling on my knees
offering all of me"
be honest now, if you've ever sung that song, do you bend your legs at 90 degrees at that point? Thought not. And that's not to mention songs which speak of lifting hands, opening eyes, closing eyes, falling face down, running, dancing, and all the other language - a lot of it found in the Psalms - which talks about how we worship God with our bodies at the same time as we are offering songs and prayers.
'Ah yes, but I'm falling on my knees on the inside', hmmm, a good English cop-out?
Tricky one this: part of the way songs work is that they express aspirations, or reinforce truths, which we haven't quite reached yet but the songs help get us closer. We sing 'my chains fell off, my heart was free' and the words and the tune themselves make us feel free-er: the song itself can take us to a place that we weren't at before we started singing.
But there's a fine line between the song as a vehicle and a moulder of our spirits, and singing things we don't believe just because they're set to a good tune and we're not really using our brains. The spiritual danger is that we get used to being insincere, to declaring things we don't really believe, making promises to God we haven't thought through and don't intend to keep, and describing actions which we've no intention of taking. I'm sure this must come across as pretty strange to people who are new to our churches as well.
The story goes that the 'Soul Survivor' church in Watford stopped singing for the best part of a year because their worship itself was becoming an object of worship - people were more keen on singing along with a great band than they were on God himself. I admire that courage. I'm also keenly aware that I approve songs on the nod for use in church without really thinking enough about what they say, or the theology they communicate, or how they are moulding and shaping the spiritual life of worshippers.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
http://www.church-on-the-net.com/ is said website, it has a weekly article (= sermon equivalent?), blogs, forums etc., but the standout is the Reference section, where I nearly got sidetracked by for several hours. It has a series of short articles about most of the major things - God, Jesus, prayer, suffering etc., and at the end of each has several web links to other helpful stuff on the topic, whether it's music videos, poems, clips from TV programmes, etc. So the section on Jesus links to bits of artwork, and the bit on 'church' directs you to a clip from the cartoon 'King of the Hill'. It really is very good.
http://www.rejesus.co.uk/expressions/index.html has been around for a few years, it's a good place to dig around, good quality stuff everywhere on the life and teaching of Jesus, and whilst you're looking you might stumble across an interesting meditation, bits of art, poetry, or a very well put together daily prayer.
The Church of England website has a small faith section at http://www.cofe.anglican.org/faith/ with some stories of people coming to faith, a brief definition of what a Christian is, but then signposts to the rejesus site above.
The Methodist church site has an exploring Christianity section, but again signposts rejesus. In fact, most of the main UK denominations send you to rejesus rather than having a major section on Christian life and faith on their own websites.
http://www.explorefaith.org/questions.html#faith is a site based on listing lots of questions that you might be asking yourself, then responding to the questions. The answers aren't cut and dried, which is a plus, and it's a very text-based site, which will be a plus to some and a minus to others.
A Google on Christianity throws up 'christianity.com', which I would have thought is a contradiction in terms. The '.com' means you get lots of adverts for stuff, which put me off reading anything they had to say.
Finally http://www.shipoffools.com/ , the granddaddy of decent Christian websites, doesn't set out to to answer any questions at all, but for anyone with a sense of humour who wants a more oblique approach to the Christian faith, it's a good place to start.
Meanwhile there is a discussion thread on the Cartoon Church website on whether evangelistic blogs actually work at all!
....and then after far too long foraging around the net, I couldn't find anything else worth linking to. What am I missing?
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
'Breakthrough Britain' - the Tory report on social breakdown
On an initial scan it's very promising. At last a politician with the guts to say that marriage is the best family structure, and to offer the staggering price tag of £102bn which family breakdown carries in UK society. It would be very easy to dismiss it all as 'nanny state telling us how to live our lives', but to be honest many of us aren't doing that good a job of living our lives.
The phrase 'breakdown society' is one used in the report and the accompanying publicity. It's something that many Christians have been going on about for years. Pray God that we now have a proper debate, and a new political consensus to do something about it.
1 day later: Gordon Brown scraps the plan for the Manchester supercasino. Yes! Maybe this is how a government of all the talents works - the Tories produce a report identifying a problem, and the PM announces to Parliament the following day what he's going to do about it. There are various whinings about the 'loss' of 2700 jobs - jobs which currently don't exist anyway - more important are the individuals and families who are going to be saved from debt, family breakdown and addiction. There's no point having a job if you blow all the money on slot machines.
Monday, July 09, 2007
youth cafe pix
Christian Blog Awards
The whole thing is a bit evolutionary, so they are adding new categories as people come up with them. Trouble is that so many blogs are a bit of a hotch-potch, like this one, that they could end up with something hopelessly complex. The other drawback is that you have to nominate your own site, rather than let other people decide it's worth nominating. Even if I did think my site was worth nominating, hopefully I'd still have the humility not to nominate it. Does that make sense?
The only thing that can be nominated without blowing your own cyber-trumpet is the best church website. I've tried to find a list of the nominees so far but can't, which is a shame as it would be good to see what they look like. It's all being judged in-house, rather than voted for by the blogging community. Not sure what I think about that either!
At Duckpool on the Atlantic coast of Cornwall, and probably in several other bays as well, is a sign warning potential bathers of three hazards:
Walking up the coast from the bay, I started musing on whether life (in that very overused phrase which crops up on a daily basis in the papers and magazines at this time of year) is in fact a beach, and how our walk with God, and the whole of our inner life, is at threat from the same three things:
Strong waves - big things which knock us off our feet - bereavement, a new child, being sacked, moving house, major illness. We cope either by having a firm enough place to stand that we don't get swamped, or if we do get swamped, by knowing which way is up, so that we can find air again.
Tides - the things which happen again and again. Just up the coast one little cove has had most of its sand dragged out to sea by the tides, leaving it much stonier and less hospitable. The tides aren't an obvious threat, but habits and repeated things can erode our walk with God, drag the energy out of us. They are also opportunities: low tide exposes things which are covered up the rest of the time, and low tide in our own energy levels or spiritual life can uncover things which, when we're stronger, we're good at hiding. On the 1st week of holiday I was very grumpy and short tempered, low tide showed this up, and the challenge is to deal with it now I'm feeling a bit more rested.
Undercurrents - things we can't see but which can drag us way off course. The way to cope with them is either stay away, or have a good anchor which keeps you in place. Without a strong life of prayer, the spiritual disciplines, the scriptures, we're dragged off course by the undercurrents of a culture which is in constant drift away from God.
I get the feeling there's a lot more mileage in this metaphor, perhaps I need another fortnight in Cornwall.