Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Tough love, but love all the same

Just wrote a bible study on 'Paul's tough love' - chapter five in Paul's letter of love to the Corinthians...

For those who like a bit of Bible, here it is...

1Corinthians is Paul’s letter of love and the epistle reaches its climactic point in Paul’s poetic depiction of love [ch.13]. However, though love is 'patient and kind' [13:4], it is not soft and wishy-washy. In fact, love 'does not delight in evil' [13:6] – as Paul demonstrates in his firm opposition to immorality in this chapter. He is appalled by the Corinthians’ easy acceptance of a man taking his stepmother as a sexual partner [v.1, see Deut.27:20]. He commands the Corinthians to exclude this man from church fellowship before sin spreads to corrupt the church further [v.2-8,11].

Yet we ought to note certain things about this ‘tough love’. First, it has as its aim the restoration of the sinning brother; it is not just punishment for its own sake [v.5, see 2Cor.2:7]. Second, such judgements are within the church to preserve her purity; Christians shouldn’t be judgemental or standoffish to those outside the church [v.9-10]. Thirdly, it is not just sexual immorality that corrupts; Paul list other impurities like money-love [v.11]. Today, Christians can be very shrill about sexual ethics – but when was the last time anyone was expelled from the church for being too rich?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

JA pride

This got me thinking...

I found seven occasions where the word 'pride' was used in the New Testament - and they were mostly positive.

Eight references to 'proud' were all bad.

Interesting. It would appear, from the New Testament, that to 'take pride' in something or someone is generally good - certainly it was good enough for the apostle Paul - whereas to be 'proud' is not good.

So I'll 'take pride' in my wonderful church, and the men and women I love, and my wife and children, and even my gifts without fear, safe from the humility police.

But I'll avoid getting proud!

The calm and the crazed?

Mad as hatters? But who's the madder?Philip Pullman’s got Christians’ goat again. Or rather, they see him as a goat – destined for an eternal roasting, unlike good sheep like them. Pullman’s about to publish a book called The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ – and Christians have been writing him letters of denunciation and damnation.

But what bothers me about this little news vignette, is not Pullman’s book. (From what I can gather, it will be a pretty unoriginal regurgitation of the old ‘Jesus-was-nice-but-Paul-made-him-into-a-beastie’ myth). No, what bothers me is the way, yet again, it presents a watching world with a dispute between the calm, rational atheist and those hysterical, crazed and judgemental Christians.

Which bothers me on two counts. Firstly because – and you’d expect me to say this – it is simply not true that most Christians are shrill, paranoid hellfire merchants, looking to hurl anathemas around. More on this in a bit. But the second reason I get twitchy about this is that, in fact, I don’t think Pullman is calm and rational. I think he’s got just as much of a bee in his bonnet as the wild-eyed religious zealots he pillories.

I read Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy some years ago. I enjoyed volume one. Sure, it was dark, a bit creepy, but a little daemon-possession makes for a good yarn. Volume two was, if anything, better still. (I love the idea of a ‘subtle knife’ that can cut its way between worlds.) But by volume three something else was happening. The anti-god, anti-church theme, which had been bubbling along under the surface, came to the boil. (‘God’ is a senile old bully, ‘church’ an institution of repression and abuse.) In fact, Pullman’s agenda boiled over, messily – and spoilt the story. Novel became diatribe. God is awful, wicked, nasty, an ogre, the church his twisted mechanism of control. Now go out and tell others: religion is evil. Evil, I tell you!

Again, I know I’m open to the jibe ‘of course you wouldn’t like that – you’re a Christian!’ But that really isn’t the point. (Apart from anything else, my God is nothing even remotely like Pullman’s creation; my God sacrifices himself, in love, for the world.) It’s just that Pullman spoiled his own story because it became silly – hysterical, crazed and judgemental, in fact, like the religious individuals who are now giving Pullman advance notice of his damnation.

Pullman is an a-religious zealot (along with his church’s high-priests Messrs Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris). But zealotry is zealotry.

Philip Pullman is ‘unperturbed’, report the media; the disapproving letters are ‘water off a duck's back’; he’s not bothered by these silly Christians. Well, quite. So he shouldn’t be – because the letters are, evidently, silly. ‘The letter writers essentially say that I am a wicked man, who deserves to be punished in hell’ smiles reasonable, persecuted Pullman. ‘Luckily it's not in their power to do anything like sending me there.’ (Chuckle, chuckle, stupid religious loonies.)

But look a little closer at what Pullman is saying. Pullman essentially says that Christians are wicked men who deserve to be punished. And he’ll bang on about it. He’ll even spoil his own novels for it.

Meanwhile, back to my first reason for discomfort – most Christians aren’t judgemental loonies. In fact, far, far, far from it.

Last night I sat down for the evening with our local church leadership team. We spent a couple of hours talking about how we could best serve those we pastor in the church. How we could best meet their needs. We prayed about it. There was love and concern in the air. There was gritty resolve to live given; to make church a place of security and strength for many – including many who are hurting and in need. That’s church – and that’s the true Christ.

And he’s no scoundrel, Philip.

Monday, March 15, 2010

To God or not to God

Latest poem from my friend, Stuart, written after a conversation we had the other night about whether 'God' is a noun or a verb (as you do...)

God the noun
thing unwrought
the unthinkable thought
the unbelievable something
the what
the is
the art
the can’t be
how on earth
pure being
just being
was to be
is that was
and will be
wholly noun

God the verb
is to do
was that does
will done
naked action
unclothed power
making causing essence
moving being breathing
wholly verb

God the undefined
this print
this page
your hands and eyes
your mind
thou and thee entwined
noun indeed
verb instead
you read

Tuesday, March 09, 2010


My friend wrote a poem this morning. I'm in it. So I thought I'd share it here. He describes it as being 'meant to say something about grace renewing our youth, or something like that, with touches of redemption by the blood, the miraculous - and so on'.

All I know is that it gave me some strength at a time in my life when I've been feeling far from strong. Words have power, and these words, from a friend in need - helped.

Shaving before work, I thought of you,
how mourning stings eyes red and weary,
how years roll by, like tears, that cloud our sight.

A droplet of light cut from the sky
flashed behind me; fell from the sun
to quicken my razor to dazzling life.

A splash of heaven played on the sooty foam,
the scummy sink, the drizzle of scraped blood -
became jam on cream - and childhood remembered, home,
a stream of joy chuckling from the heart, me and you
transformed by glory reflected - youthful, renewed.