Tuesday, August 13, 2019


I have been most influenced in my spiritual walk recently by the writings of rabbis. Jonathan Sacks 'Not in God's Name' was a profound exploration of the sibling rivalry of the Hebrew Scriptures still playing out amongst nations and faiths today. Danya Ruttenberg's extraordinary use of Twitter as a teaching tool has opened to me the insights of a female reading of patriarchical texts.

Last night I heard a new speaker, albeit one I had read and heard before but not live; one in the great rabbinic tradition. He spoke of joy.

He did it joyously, owing much to the tradition of modern stand-up with a soul. And also to the fine yiddish (can I say that? Correct me if I can't) comedians such as Jackie Mason I recall from days of yore. His jokes were funny, his visuals added much and his observations were er, observant.

Much was made of a few people who added value to what would be expected of them in their day job. Those who offered the unemployed a free dry clean of interview clothes. Those who made an imaginative sign when the door of the shop had failed. Those who played with a kid when they should have been serving the queue. Those who designed sneakers with a unicorn's horn on the top for girls of a certain age. These people, it was suggested 'get it'.

And joy was also to be found in the apparent failures of those who had given a cat-lovers magazine a strange name, or named a road using only consonants. 'They had a meeting and decided that...?'

And joy was to be found in the maths of a romanesco cauliflower (we'll forgive it being described as broccoli).

Yes, joy is knocking around for those who seek it.

The centre piece was an exploration of Ecclesiastes a book which contains the central point that living for the moment is as good as any method because we're all going to die. He exposited the Hebrew word behind 'meaningless' as 'mist or vapour' using a water mist spray as prop. If, he said, someone was being cynical you should take them down with the accusation that they haven't gone far enough because 'We're all going to die'.

So if we should spend more time living in the moment - someone in the audience was called out for taking notes 'There's always someone in the front row taking notes; thanks for doing our accounts' - what is the Christian hope? I had abandoned my iPad this evening for a notebook and pen but I chose to ignore it then and just listen. So my review is based on memory.

Well the Christian hope isn't eternal life. Not for this speaker. The hearers of Jesus would never have understood eternal life as life going on for ever. That would have been more of the same, looking on for the most as the few enjoyed the trappings of success but never enjoying them themselves. No, eternal life's secret is revealed in the 'This is what it's all about' statement as someone enjoys a great family moment, embracing all in the postprandial bloatedness of Christmas lunch.

But, I wanted to shout, there are some looking on who don't get to do that. It's terribly, well, middle class.

In my youth there was this chorus:

If you want joy, real joy, wonderful joy
Let Jesus come into your heart
If you want joy, real joy, wonderful joy
Let Jesus come into your heart
Your sins he'll take away
Your night he'll turn to day
Your heart he'll make over anew
And then come in to stay
If you want joy, real joy, wonderful joy
Let Jesus come into your heart

I hadn't sung it for nearly 40 years and I'm glad but I just wrote out the words from memory,

Christians from all over Bristol, younger than most congregations I serve, flocked to hear this stand-up rabbi. His name? Rob Bell from Los Angeles, California. Christian writer and Communicator, founding pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church and a man with disciples.

What was distinctively Christian about it? I'm not sure. I may have missed something. Help me.


Anonymous said...

Like your posts mainly Steve.But maybe now think that you are in the wrong job. You said this year that you are not a creationist and now you say you do not believe in eternal life. Suppose the moneys better than Plumbing or Tescos though and the rents probably free. Unless I've got it wrong?

Anonymous said...

Apologies for my above comment Steve. I wasn't paying attetion! I took Rob Bells viewpoint regarding eternal life as yours. Been a long day. Sorry.