Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Thought for the Day

After a brief chat about facial hair, as you do, and insults from Steve le Fevre about my salt and pepper stubble, here is the script for today's Thought for the Day from BBC Radio Bristol this morning:

Hey Steve. Looking for a thrill? Or for you is it a quiet life you seek? Ready for anything or quietly complacent?

Some people seem to live their lives looking for the next rush caused by excitement. Surfing on the Severn Bore. Water-sliding down Park Street. Getting into roller derbies as we heard on the show yesterday. Or sneaking around by night doing street art.

There are clearly some, but is the BBC Radio Bristol area full of adrenaline junkies?

In my day job as a parish priest I meet a lot of people who have worked to make their lives less exciting. They now know what is coming towards them and are glad to have security about it. They have eliminated uncertainty from their future, or so they think. I'm not so sure.

What about you? Risk averse or seeker of kicks?

In Holy Week we remember a journey taken by a man on a donkey straight into the power-structures of old Jerusalem. It wasn't thrill-seeking although tables were tipped and crowds were shouting. Maundy Thursday tomorrow is the story of how Jesus struggled with the inevitability of talking his way to his death. And the decision he eventually made to accept it. Jesus didn't dice with death. He died.

How about us? Crowd surfers or comfortable sitters; we have no idea what is round the next corner. We either don't want to be excited at all or we want to be just shocked enough to get a buzz. We love surviving a thrill, a scare, a ride, a bungee jump. But we don't want to die. Just flirt with death a bit.

But for what, or who, would you lay down your life?

Friday, April 11, 2014


It is a brave comedy that chooses not to be funny. Plot spoiling follows. Beware.

Last week's episode of Rev showed The Rev'd Adam Smallbone conducting an illegal gay marriage; having gone to great lengths not to, yet being told off for it anyway, he eventually did conduct such a service, although we were shown it to be done in apparent secret.

In the latest episode his attraction to the local school head-teacher, at a time when he and his wife are struggling with their sexual relationship, takes him to the brink of adultery.

Later, faced with an art installation in the church which manages to confront his 'sin', although it isn't intended to, he destroys it. But he has misinterpreted it. The installation is not Adam and the teacher but the artist, shown in a clerical collar, and his late wife. In breaking the work Adam loses the benefaction of the artist who would have solved the church's financial problems at a stroke. Again and again, the suggestion is, the church shoots itself in the foot.

So we are shown a church that has got so messed up about relationships that it has to skirt around the issue of gay marriage yet smashes an image of a powerful, but lamented, heterosexual relationship. And I think that is what the programme is saying is funny. Not funny ha ha but funny peculiar. Funny odd. Funny for Christ sake sort yourselves out. We want to laugh but it won't let us.

The national church I belong to is slow-moving, confused, pre-occupied by sex and full of pastors who are not leaders. It is stuck with raising huge sums of money for the retention of unsuitable buildings. From ground level hierarchy can seem frustrating. How does Adam get so much of his Archdeacon's time? My archdeacon is one of my best friends and I never get taken anywhere in a taxi. I am left to get on with it and everyone hopes I will not cock things up too much. Or be successful. Because that is just as awkward.

After a ten year incumbency the message that keeps everyone happy is to return the church to the bishop exactly as you found it.

I love this show. It holds a big mirror up to the church and tells it to stop being hopeless. That it takes a TV comedy show to do that is really funny.


Not too much plot spoiling here because the story is well-known.

Russell Crowe scowls through almost every scene of this re-imagined biblical myth. He is a dark, brooding character, haunted by the feeling of a mission from his god but never fully clear what it will be. Each step of the way is revealed to him in dreams, symbolic moments, miracles and developing perception. His grand-father Methuselah has the power of vision and healing at his command and touch and is the patriarchal consultant for the whole family.

In that way it is more in keeping with the way people feel they hear God today. No voice from heaven but a need to act on hunches, consult the wise, and interpret these in terms of obedience/disobedience afterwards. Although Noah gets a good dose of God's special effects with very good CGI.

This Noah does not expect to repopulate the earth. Indeed he feels compelled to make sure this will not happen leading to conflict with his own family.

It is a classic battle between good and evil. In order to provide some narrative tension we have a stowaway on the ark and much made of Ham and Japheth's concern that they have no wives. The biblical narrative simply describes the occupants of the ark as Noah and his wife, his sons and their wives (unnamed). By the end we see how the film thinks this might happen. It is a bit awkward for us. All the pre-genesis 12 stories take liberties with the table of kindred and affinity (if you take them literally).

Andreas Whittam Smith, writing in The Independent last week, said he was disappointed that it was not 'a literal reading of the ancient accounts'. He was looking for ark design tips, survival techniques and final-resting-place solutions. None of these questions are answered by the Bible so how a literal reading could have helped him is beyond me. Furthermore, in using the existence of fallen angels, the film calls them 'Watchers', director Darren Aronofsky has solved the problem of how the ark's occupants manage to hold back the crowds of potential boat-crashers. He also invents a sleeping gas which solves the many questions about animal behaviour on board.

Myths and legends raise many questions of detail; we are not meant to worry about their precise answers. We are meant to be concerned about questions of selfish human behaviour where every inclination of the thoughts of our hearts might be only evil all the time. And if there is a god how such selfishness might be perceived.

The Bible wants us to be fruitful and multiply in peaceful co-operation. And this early agenda is strictly vegetarian. This film asks serious questions of those whose industrial behaviour robs the land of its non-renewables. We watch three endings in effect. The rainbow is there but we are not given its biblical meaning. Ham marches off but we are not told he is to be the father of the Canaanites, or how. Noah is seen by his sons, drunk and naked but we are not told how offensive this is in such a culture.

Our lovely friends at Damaris have made some fantastic resources to go along with the film and use it to explore the truth.

Enjoyable escapism with a lot to ponder.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Thought for the Day

Used my BBC Radio Bristol Thought for the Day slot to give a quick plug to Trendewood's 25th birthday coming up on Palm Sunday. Script follows as delivered this morning:

Before satnav I lived in a street where lorry drivers would stop for directions. It meant they had missed a junction but couldn't, easily, turn. I thought, 'I wouldn't start from here.'

Sunday is Palm Sunday. Christians remember Jesus' entry into Jerusalem - a journey which ended in death.

On Palm Sunday 1989 members of Holy Trinity, Nailsea started a new church. As the town grew estates appeared where once had been fields. Instead of expecting people to come to church, church went to the people.

They met in a pub. It caused a stir. Then in a school. Trendlewood Church, if you've done the maths, will be 25 on Sunday. We will celebrate in our current home, Golden Valley School, and welcome the Bishop of Taunton as guest.

I say 'current home' because not having a building enables us to meet at the heart of the community. Although church buildings are special, the church is people. Not buildings.

Every Christian church in history was planted. The early Christians were charged with taking the message of Jesus to Jerusalem, Judea and the ends of the earth.

You can't get much more ends of the earth than Nailsea. Given its low-lying position it may not even have been earth then.

Jesus was on a journey - a fateful one in his case - so are we. We try to be a good influence in our locality. We hope to carry on being helpful, and maybe even nomadic, for the next twenty five years.

To know where we are going it is helpful to know where we've come from and, crucially, where we are. We may not want to start from here but we have no choice.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Customer Feedback

Sometimes, when you write a short and simple question to a company, the length and breadth of the response tells you that a nerve has been touched.

Cawston Press apple juice cartons are extraordinarily PC. A long list of the non-ingredients appears on the side of recyclable packaging. Having time on holiday, and realising that the package gave the impression of a home-grown product without mentioning sourcing, I sent off a web-site customer enquiry:

Do you have orchards abroad? The source of your apples is not written on your packets or web-site?

Here is the reply in full:

Hi Steve,

Cawston Press has been producing pressed apple juice for over 25 years. We use all our combined expertise of apples and blending to produce what we believe is the very best tasting pressed apple juice that has a consistent blend which can be enjoyed all year round. A key factor to achieving this is the care and attention we take in selecting specific varieties of apples. To produce the long acclaimed Cawston Press Apple Juice we always include some English Cox Orange Pippin and Bramley apples - the Cox delivers a rich full flavour, and the Bramley provides the 'bite' and sharper refreshment that we look for in our signature product. Other apple varieties used will be mainly Jonagold, Braeburn, Gala and Golden Delicious and for reasons of availability of just picked fruit we source these varieties from Europe. The exact proportion that we use of each variety will be decided by taste and will depend on the level of sweetness and acidity that will inevitably vary with each batch of apples

The approach we take to sourcing and combining these specific apple varieties is unique to Cawston Press but it enables us to produce a consistently great tasting juice for our consumers to enjoy all year round. Unlike other leading brands all the apples that we use for Cawston Press are 'picked and pressed' rather than held in what can be many months of long term storage prior to pressing (as is the case with fresh apple juices pressed all year round).

In producing the other blends in our range we select the sweeter apple varieties to balance the sharper taste of the other ingredient –for example the Rhubarb or Blackcurrant. Alternatively we will select the more delicate flavoured varieties to blend with ingredients such as Elderflower to ensure that the lighter tastes come through.

It is the careful selection of the best apple varieties available for a particular product blend, the belief that it is best to ‘pick and press’ the apples direct from the orchard, and our skill in blending the juices to achieve a consistent range of blends all year round – that together make Cawston Press the very best tasting juice whatever the time of year.

Kind regards...

You will note the actual information I sought in six words I have highlighted towards the end of paragraph one. It could have been edited still further, down to one. 'Yes'. It is delightful juice and I am not against importing apples as they are a seasonal product. Never defend yourself before you are sure you have been attacked.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Estate Agent, Nanny, Thief

A game, totally lacking in Christian sensitivity or political correctness (I know, I know), for those who like people-watching and wandering round unfamiliar towns.

Choose three random occupations.

As you pass people in the street you have to decide which of the three they are most likely to follow. You cannot ignore people. Everyone you pass has to be compartmentalised.

The game ends either when a) you are laughing so much you cannot continue or b) you pass someone to whom all three occupations could equally apply, in which case a) normally applies or c) you change towns.

At this point start again with three new occupations. The person who contributed two of the three in the previous game may only contribute one in the next round.

Taken from a line in a Tom Robinson song, 'Prostitute, Pansy or Punk?' is a particular amusing round.

The game is named after the three jobs we used the first time we ever played the game. It was in Tunbridge Wells.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Annoying Filler

I thought only one newspaper regularly did this sort of thing, but reading more than one organ on holiday I find it is more common than that.

A series of restaurants has opened, mainly south-east but that is where we are, where booking is not possible. You have to pitch up and queue. I'm pretty sure Pizza Express have had this policy for ages unless you are in a large party but we'll by-pass that.

So the Times did that thing of phoning the restaurant, pretending to be calling on behalf of various celebrities, to see if there was any latitude in the rules for pompous, over-paid, self-publicists who didn't do queues. Turns out there was.

Journals of truth using lies to expose hypocrisy. Annoys the hell out of me.

Although I did enjoy the answer to the request that Jeremy Clarkson be allowed to park outside the restaurant. 'This is a pedestrianised street.'

Friday, March 28, 2014

Full circle

In about 1980 or 81 I was secretary to the student body of the Aston Training Scheme. We agreed to give our collection at the leavers' service to a particular charity.

When the service, which was held in Chichester Cathedral choir, was over I went and asked a verger, who had removed the offertory, if I could take the money. He simply said 'No' and locked it in the safe. He would enter into no further dialogue and disappeared. Those familiar with the genus vergerus bastardus will be aware that they live in small crevices in cathedral walls and appear at moments when inconvenience is required urgently.

I was young and not fully formed. I was later told that all cathedral collections belong to the cathedral regardless of whether the event doing the collecting is private or public.

I wrote a letter of complaint because the money had been obtained from my fellow students under false pretences. I doubt they would have been so generous if they were supporting the upkeep of a relic rather than a human being. I received no reply.

I am writing this in that same choir of that same cathedral. I had a very nice conversation with a female chaplain who was doing one of her three days a year duty and on the hour recites prayers for visitors. It was her voice, praying for me, I heard when I entered.

So that feels a bit like closure of an old hurt. Never found out what happened to the money. The Aston Training Scheme, a bad idea in the first place, eventually closed and I expect that verger has long since died of bitterness. What goes around...

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Thought for the Day

My journey to the studio in Bristol made that much easier by the teachers' strike, and observing the Breakfast team managing to avoid all the pitfalls available because the show was discussing gay marriage and cruises on the same day, here is my thought about workers' rights:

'There are certain jobs where striking should not be allowed. Public sector workers should forfeit the right to strike.'

This comment from the BBC Radio Bristol Facebook page yesterday. On the face of it it makes sense.

Some occupations can make life dreadful by striking. Tube drivers can hold London to ransom. I remember the winter of discontent in the 1970s. Refuse remained uncollected. Bodies unburied.

Airport baggage handlers. Nurses. Fire fighters. Ambulance drivers. Employees in the power industry. And, of course, teachers. Each can cause misery.

Christians should not be in the business of shouting for their own rights. But we should shout loudly for the rights of others. Have we taken the trouble to listen to the grievances of our teachers?

A strike is a last resort. All lose. The employer loses its workforce. The workforce loses its pay. The customer loses the service.

Asked to comment on the development of a Trades Union for armed forces personnel, Lord Dannatt, when Chief of the General Staff, said:

'In my book, looking after individuals should naturally be a principal duty of the chain of command, and I was determined to make the group's existence superfluous.'

I love that. I will make my employees pay and conditions so good they will never need their union.

We don't notice that the crematorium staff are getting quietly on with their work, or that the electricity flows when the kettle is turned on.

Maybe we should notice our service-sector employees more?

Seven centuries before Jesus the prophet Amos spoke out that his people trampled on the heads of the poor and denied justice to the oppressed.

So if there are certain jobs where striking should not be allowed, who should decide?

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Hurdling the Keeper

I remember one of the types of goal I used to love watching in the 1970s. They were unusual, but happened occasionally. They pre-date the modern interpretation of offside which has made them rarer still. An offside trap was sprung giving a forward a free run through on goal - an offside trap that failed always left defenders with too much to do to catch up.

Clever players enticed the goalkeeper out, dropped a shoulder to commit him and then poked the ball past the other side, hurdled the keeper's outstretched legs and either slotted home, or took a touch to control and then did so.

It was one of the skills my friends and I tried to perfect in the playground and park.

See George Best doing it in the 1968 European Cup Final at

Notice, if you are quick, that he is just caught by the keeper as he goes past but keeps his balance to score.

So what would happen today? More often than not a forward, feeling the keeper's gentle caress oops I mean hard kick, would sense the opportunity to take a penalty against ten men and would fall to the turf. 'He has every right to go down there' comments Alan Shearer with his notorious grasp of human rights.

In every other walk of life the plaintiff has a common law duty to minimise his losses. So it should be a yellow card offence not simply to simulate but to choose to be the victim of a foul you could have avoided. We can't bring back the through-on-goal excitement but we can recover the lost art of hurdling a tackle.

Cafe Create Set List

Every now and again I get asked about the set list for the incidental music at Café Create. Here is last night's:

Santana tracks 1-3 off Abraxis ending with Oye Como Va
A Man of Constant Sorrow by the Soggy Bottom Boys
Blues Hand Me Down by Vintage Trouble
Codes by Atlum Schema
Mystery Man, Blue Collar Jane by The Strypes
Thriller by Easy Star All Stars
Step It Up by John Martyn
Clin d'oeil by Jazz Liberatorz
Billion Dollar Gravy and Different Drum by London Electricity

44 year range. Not bad.

Poem for Sport Relief Day

Premiered, and probably enjoying its only public outing at Café Create tonight:

Lines composed in honour of the man at the gym who, without removing any of his three layers of clothing, reads the Daily Express whilst on an exercise bike.

I see you 'cross a crowded room
And note you plod instead of zoom
The sweat that forms upon your brow
Appears by magic; can't guess how

Perhaps it's a response to reading
That has caused those droplets beading
Thoughts of all that immigration
Exercise imagination

You peddle in a mild manner
Wondering about Diana
Moving like a gentle dancer
Perhaps you think it causes cancer

Tory good, all others bad
Politicking makes you mad
Rattling your virtual sabre
You find it easy to blame labour

So I have some news for you
If getting toned is what to do
If you want to get more fit
You'll have to move your arse a bit

Friday, March 21, 2014

Quote Book Index 671-680

678. Aristotle taught that effective communication consisted of combining:

logos - the essence of the message
ethos - the credibility of the messenger
pathos - the appeal to the inner motives of the hearer

(Steve Chalke, Making a Team Work, Kingsway 1995 page 60)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

International Happiness Day

OK here we go. Entire world 1 Tilley 0. Today we are asked what makes us happy. Everyone is joining in. Knowing how to play by the rules of this game I tweeted Radio Bristol and suggested that a bit of a Boing Boing Baggies Baggies worked for me.

For the ignorant it is the chant and action of delirious West Brom fans. Rarely seen this season but unbelievably good for endorphin production when done at, say, Wembley.

But actually I am usually happy. Maybe 'content' would be a better word. I can't understand happiness as a binary on/off thing. 'What makes you happy?' is a lazy question. We probably mean 'What increases your happiness?'

I recall sitting in the dentist's chair in 1984 a few weeks before my ordination. As I suffered from asthma in those days (mercifully no longer since I shot the cat) I had to have a local anaesthetic to have two wisdom teeth removed. Half way through the surgery on the first of the two the surgeon told me my tooth was 'interesting' and that he was getting his students in. Lord preserve us from having 'interesting' medical conditions.

My teeth made him happy.

I said to myself, and this was a life-changing moment - I am glad I am me and wouldn't want to be anyone else. In discomfort and humiliated, unable to speak, I decided, yes decided, to be happy.

I read a brief article yesterday explaining how a dozen or so people who failed to get to work because they were having a bad day managed to miss being killed on 9/11. Missing the bus, arguing with a partner, breaking a shoelace - life saving.

So what makes you happy? It is in your gift to decide to be. Tired, ill, frustrated, impatient and also happy? Why not? Try it.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol an hour ago, my thought for Budget Day 2014:

Which question do you find easier to answer, 'How do you feel?' or 'What do you think?'

Most people have a preference.

I hate being asked how I feel. It stops me and makes me er (beat) think. How do I feel? I don't know.

Sports reporting is interested in feelings. Exhausted and strained an athlete will have a microphone thrust under their nose and be asked, 'How do you feel?'

The tired victor might say they are over the moon. An easy, feelingsy statement.

Today's question, 'Do I feel better off?'

The danger with feelings is that I can feel good about the economy for many reasons. Having no more dependent children at home made me feel a bit sad and yet richer. My feelings may buck the trend. A victim of a mugging may not agree that crime figures are down. Even if they are.

To rephrase the question. 'Do I think I am better off?'

The danger with thinking is working out the truth. Today stats will be flung about. £650bn here and £730bn there. In our political world getting at the truth is hard, especially when political opponents are lobbing statistics at each other as if they are opposites when in fact both are correct. They'd argue about a snooker ball. This ball is red. No it's not, it's round. Both true.

No wonder it says, to get right the Bible verse that lots of people get wrong, 'The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.' Most of the Bible's words about money are couched in the negative.

So, amidst the smoke and mirrors, listen out today for competing truths and beware of your unreliable feelings.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Quote Book Index 661-670

Last year I started to index my quote books, working through them at ten a day, which seemed a good way to break this difficult job down into bite-sized chunks. Slug eating for beginners. For reasons that escape me right now I stopped in October last year and the days turned to weeks turned to months. I'm back. Long-suffering readers will recall that I will blog the best quote of the ten each time. Imagine my joy when quote 666 turned out to be this beauty from the recently-late Tony Benn:

You can't wish away a historical movement with a couple of soundbites. There isn't a constituency 'Broadcasting House North' ... a system that doesn't meet people's needs will be rejected.
(Third Way 9/96)

Monday, March 10, 2014

Sermons from March 9th

I preached the first in our Lent series yesterday. I tweeted that if preaching is to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable then this one definitely fell in the latter camp. As a result I think I will be starting an 'Is it OK?' group to sit in a pub once a month and re-imagine, or at least re-visit, precious doctrines. Probably in the summer.

I preached twice, using different passages in the morning and evening. Text from the morning sermon only is in green. Evening only is in red.

Difficult sermon coming up. Not only will it be online but I will publish the exact text. I expect it to start some conversations.

Series idea. In part 1 we looked at God's eternal qualities. We established a biblical view of who he is.

Separate, personal, creator, sustainer, judge and king. In part two we look at some of the tensions involved in seeing God from our human perspective.

We have called the series, which we will follow through Lent, 'Triumphantly Painful'. We have played with many titles. Also 'Balancing Act'. The Father feels these tensions:

Triumph or failure?
Grace or severity?
Justice or forgiveness?
Obedience or rescue?

Or does he?

Thing is that my understanding, my human grasp of a supreme being, does not include the idea of one who struggles. I cannot believe God feels tense, nervous, pressure. What kind of a God is it who wakes up feeling worried about what he has done?

No, to that. Big no.

So let's, once again, do some theology. Some logos theos - words about God.

When we say the father feels the tension between:

Triumph or failure?
Grace or severity?
Justice or forgiveness?
Obedience or rescue?

What we mean is that we do.

When we talk of God we find ourselves tense, nervous and under pressure.

And we resolve our tensions with statements that make sense of these.

'God', we say to ourselves, 'must hate sin and love the sinner.'

'God's verdict on sin', we say, 'is death, but his verdict on Jesus is resurrection.'

'God's wrath needs to be satisfied' we say 'so he poured it out on his own son.'

'Sin needs a sacrifice' we say 'and Jesus is the one sufficient sacrifice.'

Those sorts of statement have kept me company all my adult life as I lived as a Christian.

And slowly, nigglingly, they have failed to satisfy me as modern Christian writers - yes, Christian writers - have unpicked them, re-imagined them and invited me to look again, see again, think again.

Rationalism, making sense of the world through the mind and logic, gave us the desire to make such statements.

Modernism, and now post-modernism, presents a greater willingness to live with contradictions.

This morning someone reminded me that quantum physics relies on the contradiction of particles being in more than one place at once.

So writers and thinkers started questioning where the world was headed and how we imagine God in such a world.

1. The novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, in his book Never Let Me Go conceived a world where a group of children were raised for a specific purpose - to be cloned and available to replace the organs of their twin should the need arise. And readers cried foul. This must never happen.

Christian writer Steve Chalke started asking questions about substitutionary atonement - the idea that Jesus died in my place. You often have to have a really good phrase or saying to get noticed if you are stirring things up and the one he found was this 'cosmic child-abuse'. This, he said, is what it would be, if a parent gave a child's life for anything. And Christians cried foul. You can't call God this.

Was Jesus simply born to die? To replace our damaged organ, albeit our soul or spirit?

What's the difference between Chalke's God and Ishiguro's future?

And we look at Hebrews and we note something very odd. This writer saw a father beating his son as a good thing, a discipline, a way of life.

And we look at Genesis and we note something very odd. This writer saw describing God as one who punished, disciplined, inflicted pain, threw people out as normal. For that is how fathers dealt with wayward children.

And we know better. We have moved on. I repent of smacking my sons. I was one of the first of the new generation to begin to realise it wasn't the way forward.

We might need to re-imagine God. There is failure in the garden as well as triumph.

2. In our world we began to see attempts at harmonising contradictions failing. People want to take decisions at the most local level possible but don't want a post-code lottery when it comes to serious medical treatment. People want to identify nationhood with the smallest ethnic people group possible, making for lots of new, smaller countries. Yet we want to be part of a big joined-up world as unity is safer.

Then theologians such as Pete Rollins, who works amongst Northern Irish Christians pointed out that you can't harmonise all the contradictions in the understanding of God.

'The Bible itself is a dynamic text full of poetry, prose, history, law and myth all clashing together in a cacophony of voices. We are presented with a warrior God and a peacemaker, a God of territorial allegiance and a God who transcends all territorial divides, an unchanging God and a God who can be redirected, a God of peace and a God of war, a God who is always watching the world and a God who fails to notice the oppression against Israel in Egypt.

'The interesting thing about all this is not that these conflicts exist but that we know they exist. In other words, the writers and editors of the text did not see any reason to try and iron out these inconsistencies - inconsistencies that make any systematic attempt to master the text both violent and irredeemably impossible.

The result is not an account that is hopelessly ideological, but rather a text that shows the extent to which no one ideology or group of ideologies can lay hold of the divine. The text is not only full of fractures, tensions and contradictions but informs us that fractures, tensions and contradictions are all we can hope for.'

(Peter Rollins: How (Not) to Speak of God. SPCK 2006)

What's the difference between Rollins' God and the new political future?

And we look at Hebrews and find reference to a great cloud of witnesses - all the heroes of the faith from the Old Testament - who fought and struggled for a little people group who became a nation. People who were warriors, murderers, violent men and adulterers who are commended for their faithfulness.

And we look at Genesis and find reference to a serpent. It represents the possibility of evil built into the creation God had made, fighting against it. A creation that has to be protected from human inquisitiveness by a warrior's flaming sword.

We don't like this warrior God any more.

We might need to re-imagine God. We don't like that sort of triumph.

3. Then we found a modern, western, world that began abandoning the organised church and yet embracing eastern religions, ancient spirituality, Druidism and paganism.

People who liked candles but did not understand the light of the world.

People who liked peace but who hadn't seen that we followed the prince of peace, for we had hidden that.

And theologians such as Karen Armstrong, with her monastic background, took us back to ideas of mystery and suggested that not understanding everything about God is OK:

'When we contemplate God, we are thinking of what is beyond thought; when we speak of God, we are talking of what cannot be contained in words. By revealing the inherent limitation of words and concepts, theology should reduce both the speaker and his audience to silent awe. When reason was applied to faith, it must show that what we call 'God' was beyond the grasp of the human mind. If it failed to do this, its statements about the divine would be idolatrous.'

(Karen Armstrong: The Case for God. The Bodley Head 2009)

What's the difference between the new spiritual searching and Armstrong's vision of the future?

And we look at Hebrews. And find that the prince of peace suffered and it is he who we are to follow. The 'perfecter of our faith' (Hebrews words) endured opposition.

And we look at Genesis. And find that telling great stories to explain the evils of our world - pain in childbirth, male dominance, hard work cultivating land - are premised on the basis of a God who wants to avoid people living for ever like the gods do.

We might need to re-imagine God. He seems to want us to fail.

When Job's story was told his suffering was great. His friends attempts to rationalise it hopeless. The best thing they did was sit in silence with him for a week.

In Genesis 3, without explanation, we have a serpent appear in a perfect creation, representing the possibility of evil being inherent all along.

Is it OK to say that Jesus' ministry was a failure as well as a triumph?

Is it OK to say that if God is God we can leave it at that and agree not to understand.

Is it OK to say that sometimes things are bad and we won't get it?

Is it OK to say that we can't write a full theology of the atonement without becoming gods ourselves?

Well that is the mysterious place that this 40 years a follower of Jesus has reached. Neither word, triumph or failure, does justice to that dead man on a cross. It's not good enough to say his father punished him. It's not good enough to say he defeated his enemies. It's not good enough to say the Bible has all the answers.

It is, as the saying goes, better to light a candle than to curse the darkness, but a new theology of God the father, for me, needs to include some mystery and some silence.

As Rudyard Kipling said:

'If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster. And treat those two impostors just the same...'


Thursday, March 06, 2014

An Editor's Tale

You might have seen my tweet about the inevitability of being dumped on. It happened. Here is the tale.

Designer J and editor me had a job to do. Deadline was Monday. We had asked for a few days to do the work, preferably a week.

We were copied in to a discussion which lasted about three weeks in which a project team tried to agree on the text the flier in question should contain.

I have only two requests as an editor. I want a complete, unformatted file. And I want a brief - what is the final result to look like? Not a brief that I have to piece together from emails and minutes of meetings but one brief, briefed by one person in writing.

I got the text on Monday (yeah, deadline day) although there were still some emails flying around suggesting alterations. I asked for the brief three times in the previous week but got none.

At 4.00p.m. I invented my own brief and sent J a best guess at the text and format. He produced a flier template overnight. We finished it next day. Two people told me that the finished document was not what they expected even though nobody had told us what they expected.

We made one tweak and finalised the flier in a brief discussion at a Tuesday afternoon meeting. It is being printed for the weekend launch. If you absolutely gotta get dumped on then it is worth putting up the biggest umbrella you have.

Me and J do not want our genius to be used in evidence for future dumping. We have lives too.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

What I Could Have Said

Last Monday, linking to my Outside Broadcast from Nailsea Thought for the Day, presenter Steve asked me to paint a picture of what I could see. I explained I was in a shop selling local art and ceramics, looking across at the queue for the Post Office and a not yet open bank. It was true and the best I could do at the time.

I could have said:

Morning Steve,

I am here in a shop window in Nailsea looking across at a shrine to brutalism, a concrete 1970s shopping centre which nobody much likes. The queue for the Post Office, average age deceased, began at 8.20 and has now grown to six ladies with shopping trolleys. I expect one of them is called Ivy. Tumbleweed doesn't grow here anymore.

I love my town but it has a face only a mother could love.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Thought for the Day

Today Radio Bristol are doing some live coverage from Nailsea and so I did my thought slot live from The Blue Room, a shop in the town centre. To understand the final line you need to know, if you are not local, that presenter Steve le Fevre does not come from these parts either:

I am in my home town of Nailsea. I moved here in 2006. Most people are incomers.

Allowed to grow from village to small town by the North Somerset Development Plan in the 1960s, more people moved here than come from here.

I am a Brummie. Proudly so. But Nailsea is my home. I don't come from these parts but I share with others, who have settled here, a growing love of town and a responsibility to look after the place and people.

I live on an estate that used to be fields. Lots of Nailsea used to be fields. This 1960s concrete town centre used to be the village green.

It was six months before I met anyone who had been born in Nailsea apart from the younger generation.

Location is interesting. There has been a community on this site since the days that a small island in a large bay became first tidal, then mainland.

It farmed, it became Roman, found coal, used coal to make glass and now has light industries and is a dormitory town. People sleep here and work elsewhere.

The Jewish and Christian stories start with God calling Abram to leave his home and go somewhere else.

Once, hearing that Jesus came from Nazareth, people said 'Nazareth? Can anything good come out of Nazareth?'

Later St Paul wrote, in effect, that we were all just passing through and our citizenship should be in heaven.

Where do you come from? Where are your roots? Where is your home? Are you a settler or a nomad?

So, as they used to say in my home and don't say here, Tarrarabit and back to the lovely local accent of Steve in the studio.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Breaking Bad

I've finished. Box-set parts 4 and 5 passed very quickly and I loved it. It's been a blast.

Enough has been written in praise of this excellent series, cleverly conceived, brilliantly written and superbly acted. So I'd like to have a wee ponder about the nature of the 'bad' in the title. No major plot spoilers follow but I will talk about character development which involves giving a little away.

The premise, in case you haven't been paying attention, is that Walter White, a chemistry teacher, is diagnosed with lung cancer. Seeking to leave his family secure he stumbles across the possibility of manufacturing pure methamphetamine (crystal meth) with a former pupil, Jesse, as his partner and guy with the contacts in the bad, bad world.

The series is a comedy drama. This may be controversial but it is. The mistake most comedy dramas make is to try and be funny first and dramatic as an add-on. The best ones, and Breaking Bad is the best ever, are dramatic but the comedy is all black as black can be. The characters descend into greater and greater levels of evil. They do things consequent upon their previous actions that nobody normal would choose to do. And that is funny. Thus we laugh at things that aren't really amusing, probably as a defence mechanism? Or maybe there is a Shakespearean quality to the bad-things-happening-to-bad-people funniness.

Walt begins by genuinely wanting to help his family but we watch him begin to inhabit his evil character and carry out worse and worse atrocities 'for the sake of his family'. Each bad act has to be covered. He finds, and seems to enjoy, his ruthless side. He comments towards the end that he has felt more alive in his criminal life whilst terminally ill, than ever before.

Jesse is a druggie and a no-hoper but he cares for people. He is the one moved by the deaths of the innocent along the way. He tries to escape the drug-world on several occasions but finds it has its teeth into him.

Walt's wife Skyler appears to stand for purity and innocence. Everyone believes the best of her. She is always immaculately dressed but, bit by bit, she suspends her wondering about the origins of Walt's money in order to secure her future. Love disappears from their relationship but practicality keeps them together. As the first series opens she is pregnant. The child that is eventually born spends many episodes being tugged between two adults. We wonder who she will grow into. Can Skyler keep up the pretence? And keep quiet? She begins by challenging a boss about false accounting. She ends laundering money through her own business.

Walt and Jesse end up crossing paths with a variety of low-life petty criminals and druggies as well as some serious players in the world of organised crime and drug trafficking. Most of them watch their backs, or are so evil they don't care who gets in the way. One character, introduced late, Todd, offers death and suffering to all and sundry with a permanent semi-smile. Is this what it is like to have no conscience?

Walt and Jesse use the services of Lawyer Saul 'Just Call Saul' who gets things done, deviously and illegally but with a front to the operation that is totally legit. He introduces them to Mike, who cleans up mess. Sometimes he has to mess people up to clean up. Bad is often improved by different bad. People in prison can be recruited to murder. New identities can be bought. Bad money can be kept safe.

Walt Junior has cerebral palsy. It is an interesting play as the only other character with something desperately bad to live with turns out to be morally superior almost every step of the way.

Marie is Skyler's sister and struggles, as we meet her, with kleptomania. It is her 'bad' but it fades as the series progress and we find her intent on the good of her family. But she comes over as devious and manipulative in the way she obtains her wishes. She hangs very loose to any promises of confidentiality she keeps.

Hank, the lead police investigator, a determined man, is married to Marie and so the set-up is that he is Walt's brother-in-law. This leads to him swallowing, for the most part, all of Walt's lies and misdirects about his behaviour. Eventually he has to face the truth, that admitting he failed to see the serious crime being committed in his own family will cost him his job.

What is the bad without which this series wouldn't have worked?

Is it that most people become manipulable in the face of huge sums of money? Is it that we would all go to great lengths to protect our family? Is it the US health-care system which leads two characters to obtain their healing using dishonestly obtained money? Is it that people find life so low that many are looking to pay money for a high? Is it that once on the bottom rung of 'bad' you will not be able to climb down?

Some discussion questions maybe?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol an hour ago. A surgeon has written to The Times complaining about the amount of parking tickets he has received when called to an emergency at a hospital he does not regularly work at:

No-one likes a Jobsworth. 'I'd let you off but it's more than me jobsworth.' We like people to show some flexibility. Especially when it's us that are involved. Think of these excuses:

'I only stopped on the yellow lines to get a paper. Jobsworth traffic warden gave me a parking ticket.'

Or, 'I only used my phone briefly to tell my husband I'd be late. Jobsworth train conductor asked me to leave the quiet carriage.'

So let's rewind. Once there was a busy road. If anyone parked on it in the rush hour it slowed everyone else down. But some selfish people still did. So yellow lines were painted.

If anyone parked on a yellow line they got fined. If caught. But some selfish people still risked the fine - only being a moment in the shop.

So a redress had to be found that would stop people taking the risk. Clamping and towing. That will stop the selfish motorist, thought the law-makers.

It didn't. And indiscriminate clamping meant that sometimes the innocent were caught up in the punishment.

I could now tell you that this is all very important and the Bible tells us all to behave ourselves. But the Bible knew nothing of cars and phones. In fact the Bible says we have freedom, God-given freedom, to act as we wish. Selfishly, if we want. It even says 'All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.'

Who was responsible for the doctor being delayed getting to a poorly child's bedside? We all were. Anyone who ever behaved in such a way that laws had to be framed to stop us. To say anything else would, frankly, be more than my jobsworth.

Friday, February 14, 2014


I spent a lot of time between the ages of 11 and 16 just staring out of the window. I don't know if my Dad's words 'If you're bored you must be a cabbage' were influencing me (they do now) but I know I had the feeling that something would come along to ease the dullness of teenage life and I simply had to wait. I did. It did.

These days my life is never dull. Moments of reprise from busyness can be rare.

One thing I do know. That slight tendency to inward-lookingness. The very edge of depression without ever crossing over into it, where I can see down but have no inclination to jump. That is the place of creativity.

Today, a day off, I had to be up early to take my car for a service. The garage is on one of those anonymous out of town malls where there is a cinema. Not open for three more hours. There are also the usual fast-food chains and loads of lifestyle destinations, oops I mean shops.

Looking out over a rainswept dual-carriageway from the most pedestrian unfriendly McDonalds in the west, I have never felt more alive. It is as if the words from the past kick in and this is my cue to do something useful; to make a difference myself without help. To get the lyrics of the song the wrong way round, I have to get down in order to get up.

I don't know if this is a key to managing depression. I would never describe myself as having been depressed. But so many of my more creative friends, especially the musicians, seem to have to embrace the downness in order to write.

I wrote this haiku over breakfast. It is Valentine's Day:

These roses are red,
Enhanced by the glow of the
Petrol station lights.

Let us not go into its quality as poetry. The haiku is a one-liner by any other name. Chuckle if you want. Let us notice that it is quite bleak. Cynical about love and cheap expressions thereof. It uses the greyness of the weather to comment on the greyness of relationships. Petrol station flowers say 'I nearly forgot' louder than 'I remembered'.

Sorry to be writing a critique of my own work but it is to help us understand how I got there not to draw attention to the verse. It would not have happened if I had been enjoying the start to the day.

It is also 14/02/2014 which excites me more than most as I like being alive on interesting numbers days. The love of my life tells me that is both very sad and also why she loves me. So at least one person understands.

I need to move to another coffee bar. This one has exhausted its possibilities.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol this morning. There are also photos on the Radio Bristol Facebook page of me wearing a cardigan, which is of interest to the show's fashion police and I am about to be interviewed about it. But the thought. Ah yes. It's this:

I watched a Liverpool home match once, in the late 1970s, from the Kop behind the goal at Anfield. It was a place of great excitement, humour and not a little danger. When Liverpool scored to take a 2-1 lead over Spurs I fell forward about ten yards in a massive crush. I was separated from all my friends. Yes, I remember standing at football matches.

Two of today's news stories are interesting when considered together. The return of safe standing to football grounds is being contemplated. The authorities are aware that something has been lost by way of atmosphere at many grounds following the all-seater legislation of the 1990s.

Why did we have standing areas? Amongst other reasons, it was a working class game and cheap viewing areas kept the spectacle within the pocket of the working person. It served the poor. Today's seated spectators were famously criticised by Roy Keane as 'the prawn sandwich brigade'.

But we also learn that a £10 million lottery grant is coming to Bristol, ear-marked for the support of the most vulnerable members of our community.

You may not agree with all the Christian claims about Jesus Christ. But you cannot read the Bible books of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John without seeing that he called for people to be judged on the way they treat the poorest. Outcasts. Lepers. Sinners. He went to these people first - and was criticised for so doing.

So whether it is the homeless, recovering addicts, the flooded-out, the victims of female genital mutilation or any other kind of problem - on this programme we are often flabbergasted by the triumphs of the successful - let us never forget the turmoil of the sufferer.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Giggle time

So our service leader wanted to pass on something from the pre-service prayer time in which those gathered felt a call to pray for someone with hearing difficulties.

I resisted laughing when he said, 'There's just one Word this morning' and then read out five.

I controlled myself not to shout out 'Pardon' in response to this prayer need.

But when that same service leader (who does have the ability to laugh at himself, hi Mike) followed it by asking 'If that rings a bell with anyone...' I lost it.

Sometimes all you can do is giggle.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Cameron on Scottish Independence

As I was on a journey and needed something to listen to I tuned to Radio 5 Live and listened to Cameron's velodrome speech on Scottish independence. It was an annoyingly poor speech - badly written and ill-judged.

My big problem with it would be this. If you took away all the proper nouns from his 'better together' argument and substituted them with names and places from our European history it would be a barnstorming pro-European speech. In other words, he rehearses this argument in one cause and the exact opposite in another.

There were other, more minor, problems. Anyone who looks forward, when they are of age, to teaching his children from a book with a political-historical spin should substitute the word indoctrinating for teaching.

And a lack of Conservative Unionist MPs north of the border should tell him that any intervention in the debate from a Conservative Unionist PM would be likely to persuade people whose vote counts (those living north of the border) to do the opposite.

At its heart the only true paragraph was the final, emotional argument. Conservatives don't like changing anything. They conserve. It's in their nature.

Scottish independence may be awkward to administer at first but will not make any significant difference to anything.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Jesus on Wheels

He reaches Kuala Lumpur on his journey down under.

Black Maple Live

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Thought for the Day

As delivered on Radio Bristol's Breakfast with Steve le Fevre earlier this morning in response to the strange story yesterday about crocodile sightings in Bristol and today's news that inactivity in our region is leading to problems with health:

I woke yesterday to your voice Steve, as usual. Then it got weird. Crocodiles? Here? More serious today. How active are we all?

Friend of mine, no stranger to the cake tin, once said of me. 'Steve wouldn't put on weight if he ate a greased pig.' Harsh but fair. I haven't had to struggle with diet like some. I am the last person to offer thoughts on weight loss.

But inactivity; muscles slowing and joints stiffening. These are not about menu. They are about lifestyle. We need to keep exercising.

A doctor I know told me there might be fifty per cent fewer cases of bad backs in his waiting room if we all walked a mile a day. Move it or lose it, he said, of any stiff joint.

Our ancestors had not found the cures for the major diseases which we have licked. They died younger. But in their lifetimes were they fitter? Running to catch and kill your supper keeps you healthier than phoning for pizza.

Is it a spiritual matter? The Bible tells us that ' does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.' But it talks of our duty to our neighbour. If I get avoidably ill, and need your taxes to pay for my repair, am I loving you as myself. Maybe I have obligations to look after myself, for the sake of my neighbour and my family. I believe my wife prefers me alive.

Of course our ancestors were more likely to be food for animals themselves and had to be ready to run. Maybe a few crocodiles loose in the Bristol area would get us all moving faster.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Social Media Frenzy 2

So after last week's story (see previous post) we reached the state where we thought it would spread no more. Bath and Wells Diocesan Communication Team had seen their tweet about Social Media Guidelines picked up by local radio, national radio and national newspapers. All went quiet.

Then, out of the blue, came a request from Russian State TV (claimed reach 130m) to interview someone in the Diocese about this, especially a priest who used social media. Thrust forward I was. Apparently Orthodox priests are being encouraged to embrace social media and the media wanted to talk to a priest who did it.

Aleksander, the station's UK correspondent was a delightful guy and well-briefed. He expressed interest in our church life (and was a fan of Pope Francis) and engagement with the local community. He said that church life and community life could tend to be separate. He appreciated the variety of the Church of England, liberal to conservative, informal to structured, modern to traditional.

The interview, which was a bit wider than simply about social media, will probably be broadcast today so I am at the mercy of Aleks' translation skills I guess.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Thought for the Day

One of today's topics on the Breakfast show at BBC Radio Bristol (I am beginning to feel obliged to mention BBC Radio Bristol every other sentence) was the suggestion that parents might be fined for smoking in cars containing children. So, as delivered an hour ago:

Do I have the freedom to decide what to do with my body?

Recently this programme has applauded the remarkable physical achievements of those who have persuaded their bodies to do extraordinary things. Row the Atlantic? Tick. Walk to the the South Pole. No problem. Astonishing mental and physical control.

But it has discussed the opposite. I can allow my body to get out of condition. I can over-eat or smoke. I have these freedoms too.

I smoked cigarettes for ten years, from age 14 to 24. It was the arrival of a child which persuaded me to stop. I managed it. I know it is hard. I was helped by my wife's hatred of the smell of cigarettes during pregnancy. I furtively puffed away in the garage, anticipating smoking dens by many years.

I was banned from the school sixth form centre for a month for smoking. I'm not proud.

I worked in an open-plan office where lots of people smoked. I could smoke in pubs, restaurants, the cinema and football matches. Culture has changed now. We now know more about the harm smoking can do.

But those who defend civil liberties wonder where it will all end, anticipating the day when BBC Radio Bristol Breakfast is visited by the diet-police, confiscating your flap-jacks and cakes. For your own good.

St Paul had things to say about bodies. He felt we should honour God with them. In this context he said 'Everything is permissible ... but not everything is beneficial.' He summarised that our bodies are a temple. We should treat them as such.

So I have the freedom to train my body for physical achievement, or to spoil my body and treat it mean. But not at your expense.

Monday, January 27, 2014

God the Creator? A sermon text.

I have been asked to publish the text of last night's sermon on God as creator. Here it is but if you listen online you will find some slight differences. I also preached on the same subject in the morning at Trendlewood but missed out the bit about Dagon and added one or two pieces of local interest.

It should appear here later in the week. The Trendlewood one has already been uploaded here.

Holy Trinity, Nailsea
Genesis 2:4-18
God 3 - Creator

The idea of this year is that we do Son, Father and Spirit. Having covered Encounters with Jesus in the autumn of 2103, spring 2014 is to be Father. Summer 2014 will be Holy Spirit.

Spring is in two parts. In part one we look at some of God's eternal qualities. These will give us the bedrock from which we can move into the less comfortable ground. In Lent we we look at some of the struggles and balances we have in understanding God from our human perspective.

Part 1 (Epiphany - Lent)
God's eternal qualities. We establish who he IS. We have looked at:
1. Exists (Genesis 1:1 - first four words, Psalm 14:1)
2. Separate and yet personal (Colossians 1:15, Job 38ff)

3. Creator

In the environment of the 4th-7th century BC, when the four main editors of the biblical accounts were putting together their work, the world view was not that there was one god but that there were gods. And it had been revealed to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and the prophets who followed that Yahweh, the Lord, was their God and they shall have no other gods but Yahweh.

This gradually became the great monotheistic religion (mono = 1 theos = god) of Judaism. But it was monotheistic in the face of other nations other gods.

In 1 Samuel 5 there is a great story. Philistines capture the ark. What shall we do with it?

They put it in the only place they can think of. In the temple of their God - Dagon. The Philistines think they have God in a box; subject to their god so they put it next to their God.

These Philistines knew of the reputation of the Hebrew God. 1 Samuel 4:5-9. Yet they won and captured the ark. The story goes on to explain, in amazing style, that the Philistines may have captured the ark but they don't, as they appear to think, have God in a box. We are created; God is not crated.

Their god Dagon keeps falling over. The ark is taken elsewhere but wherever it goes the people suffer tumours. Eventually they return the ark with gold rats and tumours (lovely) as an offering.

The OT is very anti-idol. Why?

Compare and contrast Genesis 1 and 2. So the creation stories in Genesis, of which there are two in parallel, (more in a bit) are written as what we call polemic. They are in opposition to other creation stories.

The other nations had gods of the sea, gods of the mountains, gods of the harvest, gods of fertility, gods of their country, gods of the town. A god for all seasons and a god for all reasons. Gods who did their best with the raw materials of human offering and, if appeased properly, made them prosper.

Theologians looked at the Genesis accounts which I am sure you know well. The first account is Genesis 1:1-2:3. The six day account ending with God creating human beings in his own image, male and female and then resting. The whole story is complete with god resting on the Sabbath. It gives us a clue that it is a lovely story to answer a child's question. 'Daddy why don't we work on the Sabbath?'

The second account has a change of style; the order of the first account is altered. There are streams before rain. Male and female are described as created separately. Plants are created for humans to give them food to eat. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil sits, majestic and separate, in the middle of all.

(If we look at the end the children's questions it answers are, amongst others, why is childbirth painful and why do snakes slither.)

Theologians looked at this account and said. Do you know what the God of the Israelites does that the other gods don't do?

And they called it, in Latin, creatio ex nihilo - creation out of nothing.

What sort of creative are we? Probably not ex nihilo. most of our creativity is doing our best with pre-exisiting parts. Building with raw materials. Painting with oils, water-colours or mixed media. Writing with words. Even music, which comes close, is about arranging noises that already exist in a new order. But we often get reminded of one piece of music by another.

Films are described in language that explains a new movie in terms of the old. The most famous film pitch of all time was a screen-writer trying to get a producer to grasp the first film in the Alien franchise. The explanation he came up with: It's Jaws - in space.

We are not creative in the same way as God but we are made in the image of God. We are the idol.

As we talk about God as creator we find ourselves accused of being creationists - a word that has become an insult.

We believe in a creator God who made human beings as the pinnacle of his creation and who wants us to be his envoys. Jesus is (Colossians 1) the likeness of the invisible God; we are the image of the invisible God. Jesus clearly represents; we point.

My understanding of God as creator does not belong in science classes. The Bible is not, and has never been intended to be, a science text book. It is the developing story of God's relationship with his people, and theirs with him, and how they understood God.

For me there is nothing historical about Genesis 1-11. Not all truth is historical truth.

The blood-lusting, confused picture of God (in the OT) is the one anti-creationists such as Richard Dawkins and Alice Roberts say is wrong. I believe they are right.

A creator God, who creates humankind ex nihilo is bigger than any god the contemporary atheists have knocked down.

For me evolution, the belief that by millions of very minor step changes over huge swathes of time the pinnacle of creation arrives in the same way that all creatures adapt or die points to a much bigger god than one who literally makes people out of dust in an instant. To have a plan so grand that it encompasses evolution and the wait for that to work itself out. Now that's a big God.

So any idea that we can pin this God down in order to knock him down is laughable. It is he who knocks down, as Dagon followers discovered.

Our response to being created by a creator who wants us to represent him is to be a difference in our community.

I went to see the comedian Mark Thomas last night. He is a man who has devoted the whole of his comedy life to making the life of the poor and oppressed better. This foul-mouthed comedian has made a difference. Made in the image of God his 100 minor acts of dissent this year will have improved lives for those who are underpaid, those who are forced to see display pornography in newsagents, (those large firms who pay their tax offshore), those women in Saudi Arabia who wish to drive and homosexuals in Russia. Puts us to shame.

The God who began, will end and in the middle sustains wants us to make a difference. Or he wasted the breath he breathed into us.

Revelation 4:11

Silence to end.

I am not a scientist. I believe the way to act wisely is to follow and believe the current accepted norms of the majority of scientists. Thus my views.

I had a number of comments. I expected quite a lot because this is a church where the young earth creationism of Noah's Ark Zoo farm has a lot of supporters. I was surprised. One man told me it had been an articulation of exactly what he had been trying to say for years. Another felt it should be published in the Guardian. Still another said my left-wing credentials were fully on view.

A person who told me she agreed with everything I said then explained how she believed in evolution apart from of human beings. Man was created but everything else evolved, she said, in effect. Her evolutionary understanding is the species-only one - yes, the one Noah's Ark espouse. She is a teacher. I explained that evolution is not something you can pick and choose a bit of. It is either true or it isn't. Someone joined her and between them they mentioned the usual, well-rehearsed arguments:

Evolution is only a theory
Darwin didn't want to publish
There's no evidence that humans evolved from apes

To be honest I am bored of knocking down these points so discredited are they.

A man who is one of my best listeners - always has something to say - told me he had not followed my argument very well and wanted to listen again. I agreed I had been trying to cram a lot in. He suggested I might have been better to have been even briefer.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Creation Good - Creationism Bad?

I am preaching the third in a series tomorrow, on God as creator. It is a tougher subject than it used to be. And whose fault is that?

I want to set that up a bit this morning.

You see whenever those who are not members of the faith community, and in particular those who would not call themselves Jesus-followers, hear the word creation these days they hear 'creationist'. And when they hear 'creationist' they hear 'fruit-loops'.

So all of us who believe in a greater power, a higher force, an uncaused cause, a prime-mover, a logos (made flesh or otherwise) have to do a lot of explaining that 'what creationists think' and 'what many normal Christians think' are not the same thing. Even though I do believe in a creator he is bigger, by definition, than the creationists can possibly imagine. He is bigger than the knock-god-down opponents describe. For the god they usually knock down is too small.

I watched the last episode of Series 1 of Aaron Sorkin's 'The Newsroom' last night. In it news anchor Will McEvoy (Jeff Daniels), who is portrayed as a liberalish Republican (bless), unleashes an amazing anti-Tea Party rant. In short he says how dare anyone suggest that God might be on their political side. It is why the founding fathers left religion out of it. And from this he deduces that there is not a single 'Christian position' on a whole load of issues.

My understanding of God as creator does not belong in science classes. The Bible is not, and has never been intended to be, a science text book. It is the developing story of God's relationship with his people, and theirs with him, and how they understood God. In the Old Testament they thought he was a warrior God who gave battle victory in response to obedience. They were wrong. They thought he liked them setting animals on fire as a sacrifice. They were confused. They thought he wanted them to sacrifice their children. He didn't. How do we know? The don't-kill-your-children thing was revealed early (to Abraham on a mountain). Then Jesus, the likeness of the invisible God (Colossians 1), told us and showed us the rest.

If we take a literal approach to the Old Testament (and it occurs to me that those who do are still very selective) then we have to concoct all sorts of complex theories, unacceptable to the majority of the scientific community, to explain why the dates add up, why evolution is discredited and only a theory and why the search for the actual Garden of Eden, or Ark of Noah, is worth carrying out.

For me there is nothing historical about Genesis 1-11. Not all truth is historical truth.

The blood-lusting, confused picture of God is the one anti-creationists such as Richard Dawkins and Alice Roberts say is wrong. They are right.

So what picture of God as creator is right? Find out tomorrow. Trendlewood Church at 1015 or Holy Trinity, Nailsea at 1830.