Wednesday, April 28, 2010

ten past eight: rant time

Oh yes. Time for a rant all right.

So I got an invitation to "like" the 2010 Westminster Declaration on Facebook. What is this? You can read it here.

The authors of this Declaration start their piece, written for this election period with these words:
Protecting human life, protecting marriage, and protecting freedom of conscience are foundational for creating and maintaining strong families, caring communities and a just society. Our Christian faith compels us to speak and act in defence of all these.

It's an attempt to bring American style right wing politics into British evangelical Christianity. Which is slightly bizarre, as British evangelicalism has always been strangely split - a fair section of it has always belonged in the country side of the Tory party, and a fair section has always been avowedly socialist. Straightforwardly political issues have therefore never sat well with this constituency.

What has changed? Not a lot, really, although there is a secular air about which makes those who like to feel threatened feel threatened. They should have been around in St Paul's day. Of course, a liberal secular agenda and a sprinkling of Pullman & Dawkins will bring the loudmouths out of the woodwork...

And hey presto.

Let's get this straight. We love life here at St Catherine's: God is the author of life, and we love God; valuing his gifts is a part of following him. So statement number one is a given. Protecting marriage? We love marriage - we try to marry as many couples as we can, and fight hard to preserve marriages that struggle. For life should mean for life. We believe in faithfulness - because we worship a God who is all about faithfulness. It is one of his most profound and richest gifts to us. Protecting freedom of conscience? That's a deep one. I got into trouble on Remembrance Sunday on this one - because of my insistance that this is foundational. For everyone. Including those whose conscience I disagree with. Otherwise, it isn't freedom - it's the tyranny of me. Censorship by another name. I have to allow freedom to those who hate me, in order to have it allowed for me - that's freedom, and respect is living together and understanding so that hatred becomes dislike with understanding.

Are these things "foundational for creating and maintaining strong families, caring communities and a just society"? We are all about strong families, caring communities and a just society here. Sounds like this is just the kind of thing we should support.

But then suddenly it goes into crassness hyperdrive.

Under "Our Beliefs and Values" it has a kind of diluted creed, a washed out version of Trinitarianism that places the Father's actions in the past, Jesus' role mostly in the past - with a reference to his return sneaking in there, and the Holy Spirit as the only currently active member of the Godhead, and whose role is defined in terms of serving us. Oops.

It goes on to say that as UK citizens (err, subjects, anyone? In my head somewhere I have this idea that it's US citizens and UK subjects, technically) we agree "to be subject to all governing authorities and obey them except when they require us to act unjustly". Fair enough.

Fair enough? Anyone read St Paul recently? The man is spinning on his cloud, uttering great chunks of Welsh as we sit here glued to our screens. Romans 13.1. That would be a start. Except when they require us to act unjustly? Sorry, the Bible offers no easy cop outs on obedience to authorities. We would love it to, but it is one of those hard issues. And what is meant by "act unjustly"?

"God told me that to pay my taxes was wrong, so you can't throw me in jail. It's unjust." Nope. Really no. Romans 13.6-7. This is silly and dangerous language because it can mean anything...

In the paragraph Human Life, we begin to be clearer where this is taking us. Again, we value all human life. Agreed. And we would fight for human life. But isn't it interesting that in a time of active military intervention, there is no reference to a pacifist agenda here? They argue that it is a duty to protect a foetus against experimentation, but not an Afghan against "friendly fire". There is a choice made about which lives matter. There is an agenda. I'm just saying.

The paragraph Marriage is awful. Badly written. The definition of crass. Let me quote:
We pledge to support marriage – the lifelong covenantal union of one man and one woman as husband and wife. We believe it is divinely ordained, the only context for sexual intercourse
What's wrong with that? Well, let's start with the fact that they have just made all re-married divorcees who have sex to be adulterers. Some people may believe this. I think it's probably a minority opinion, even in quite conservative circles. If lifelong marriage is the only place for sex, and you are in a second marriage, according to this, you have to be celibate. NOW - of course this isn't their target, but it is what they are actually saying. And that's why it's crass. If you don't mean it, don't say it.

What they are really saying is - we don't want any of that nasty gay stuff here, and we won't accept it as being equal to us nice straight people. Fair enough - freedom of conscience is freedom for all, even if you don't like what's being said. But I do feel they might have been a bit more honest. "We refuse to submit to any edict" has a nice ring to it; just not a lot of humility, or very much St Paul.

The Conscience paragraph is glorious. Almost Puritanical, I love it. Well it made me smile. And recoil.
Get this:
We will seek to ensure that religious liberty and freedom of conscience are unequivocally protected against interference by the state and other threats
The state and other threats! In a society where there is actually a State church and the monarch is the head of that church! No religious liberty here - just a threat to being a Christian from the state. This may have been true in Communist Romania, but it is a little over-egging the biscuit even in Gordon Brown's Britain.

Alas, it goes on in similar form, having found its theme:
We will not be intimidated by any cultural or political power into silence or acquiescence and we will reject measures that seek to over-rule our Christian consciences or to restrict our freedoms to express Christian beliefs, or to worship and obey God.

But what Christian beliefs is it referring to? Those key beliefs of being against abortion, stem cell research, homosexuality, civil partnerships and the like.

I don't want to belittle ethical debates. I don't want to say there can't be disagreement on these debates - I think there can and should be such disagreement - we have the freedom to disagree, I've made that plain - but I do think these are not central areas of Christian faith, and are areas on which Christians take differing attitudes and emphases.

Seriously. With prayer, and Scripture, and seeking to follow God. We differ. So saying that we are under threat from the state when someone disagrees with us - well, that won't do. And using inflammatory language and threatening back, which this declaration seems to me to be doing, well, that won't do either. Romans 12 - bless those who persecute you, bless and curse not.

Somewhere along the way we have to see that the people we disagree with are people. That means God loves them. Amazing but true. Jesus died for them. Wonderful. If he thinks so much of them, it's a bit low of the church to get so angry and mean with them when they give us a rough ride. They gave him worse - and he stayed silent. It's all very well to say we love them but they know the truth.

A Declaration like this says we don't. We just want our own way or we'll throw our toys out of the pram.
But Marcus, we're throwing our toys out BECAUSE we love them - it's for their good!
Yep. OK. Listen - they don't feel loved. I think we need to do a bit better than this.

Rant over.

Monday, April 26, 2010


There we go. Bags packed. Pool covered. At least the sun is back out after a night of thunderstorms.

The house is empty - Ben has gone to school, and Gill to work. Chuck will drive me to the airport soon. What is left of a holiday? A hat. Some photos. The emptiness of an ending, and the anticipation of a return.

I think I should sit out in the sun for a while. I love the sun. The blue sky. The simplicity and purity and wonder of a pure blue sky. No clouds. I do enjoy it when there are no clouds - life seems so much better without the clouds. It's not the heat (I like the heat) it's the blue sky I love the most. Unfettered sight of the sun.

What's left of a holiday? Just a little more of that...

Friday, April 23, 2010

I read the Bible today

I read the Bible today. All of it.

Well, I finished reading the Bible today, actually. A year ago I bought the NIV One Year Bible, and have followed it every day since. It does require some discipline - some days you are reading a huge chunk of almost totally unreadable Numbers or some such, but it mixes things up (a chunk of Old Testament, a bit of New testament, a Psalm, a verse or two of Proverbs) and it keeps them to dates so that you have to stay on course (none of this "day 127" stuff which allows you to miss and decide the next day or the day after that is really day 127) and hey presto - 365 days later, I've done it.

It's not the first time I've done cover to cover. But it is the first time I have been so organised about it for a very long time. In the end I got 3 versions of the One Year Bible: the original one I bought was a small print thing, perfect for travel, but very hard to read late at night, especially if it was late at night after a trip to the pub. I was bought a larger print version as a gift, and that became my standard one, though the small one stayed with me on trips away - until I was given a Kindle, when I bought it for that so that I had it in far easier format for travelling, though in a less appealling translation.

Absolutely, reading a ton of Scripture every day means that lots feels like it is just going in through your eyes and not sticking much. I think that's OK. Read it, read it, read it. More sticks than you know. And makes you think, or feel, or hope, or be angry - it's all good. And there are days when you see something somewhere you never knew existed, and it joins to something else and sets you working away with stuff, joining the dots, thinking Biblically.

I commend it to you. It is an undertaking, a spiritual discipline. Through these difficult months I have had, it has been one of the things that has upheld me. What you sow, you reap. If you've never done it, give it a go.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


So I'm sitting in the sun listening to the Delirious Farewell CD on my walkman. Downloaded it this morning from iTunes.

I remember these guys when they were Cutting Edge; I went down to Littlehampton to see them in some gym. It was fantastic - we're talking '94 I think.

And listening to this recording, I am reminded of the power of beautiful words. Words of heartfelt, full-blooded commitment to Jesus. The music is wonderful, matching the words, but it's the words that grab me. From "Deeper" to "Obsession" to "Paint the Town" to "Bliss" to "Solid Rock" time and again they peel back the superficial with simple phrases of great profundity.

Idolatry is not worshipping an obvious idol; it is breaking the relationship of right love for God by taking our first eyes off Him and letting that love rest elsewhere. We are made to love, and we fill our hearts with love - but unless we place that first love firmly upon Jesus we will always be only partially human. It is he who makes us all we can be, allowing us in his love to love everything else that surrounds us, envelopes us, properly. Fully. Gloriously. Because we live in right love with him, first, with our first eyes on him, free to look everywhere else rightly, wonderfully, as a result. This is the opposite of idolatry, this is salvation, this is redemption, this is the cross, this is true worship.

And as I listen to the songs on this recording, my heart is lifted, my eyes are taken from the myriad things and concerns and worries and people that fill them, and I worship with joy. Clearly. The fog clearing.

Idolatry is not a condemnation, it is a sadness, a warning, a reality for a fallen humanity in a cracked world. Praise God for the gift of worship leaders who pursue truth and carry us there, on the coat tails of Jesus, fixing our world as they fix our gaze with theirs on our Saviour and his wonderful love.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

cloud of unknowing

I had an IM on facebook today: how long did I think I would be stuck in the States? As I'm not due to leave for another week, I don't think that technically I am "stuck", yet... though there is a little sheen taken off a holiday when you don't know if you can get home because of the great cloud of unknowing that has taken us all by such surprise.

Reading web reports ("airspace to open tomorrow" "new cloud threatens opening of airspace" and a personal favourite - "navy to bring stranded tourists home") suddenly the world has become such a big place again, hasn't it? The day trip to paradise has become exile from Eden. Or at least from Europe. Or in Europe, if that's your problem.

The Cloud of Unknowing, by which I refer to the medieval book and not the current ash cloud, contains this advice to travellers: "A short prayer pierces heaven". Probably the government is right to want a bit more safety sorted than a wing and a prayer, but for us as God's people it does make us stop and look at where we place our security.

In a job? A pay packet? A house? A car? A family?

If we are to be Jesus' disciples, we are to be prepared to give all these things up - not because they are bad, but because they are temporary, ephemeral, earthly and finite. To be a disciple of Jesus is to know that when the clouds of unknowing hit, the sudden and catastrophic things that change our worlds, they are not the end of our worlds because our hands are held by the one on whom our eyes are steadily fixed. This is what worship achieves. We will struggle, we will feel the stress, we will be buffetted by the waves and the wind - and yet we will hear the voice of Jesus from within the boat calm the storm, heal the sick, comfort the lonely and raise the dead.

A short prayer pierces heaven? A life of worship helps us see through the clouds of unknowing to the home that lies beyond the skies, and makes us fit both to live here well and to live there eternally

Sunday, April 18, 2010


So Chris, my very good friend from Orlando, took Gill, Ben & I to Disneyworld yesterday - and we had a terrific time.

Disney is great - if you are with the right people. And we had a super time, cos we had a lot of fun together, with just the right mix of Mickey taking (oh yes) at each other's expense and simple enjoyment of the moment. The "Tower of Terror" has you cringeing as you wait... but then when you get thrown into the air & it drops down, it is just better to scream alomg with everyone else...

The sun shone most of the day, with a little cloud cover later in the day giving us a bit of a break. And though Gill tried to clog our arteries with a huge breakfast buffet, we walked most of it off.

I still enjoy the Star Wars ride - which I first rode 20 years ago, and which back then was pretty amazing - but the Tower is much better now. And I also enjoyed the simple pleasure of walking around the Epcot lake and wandering past the different national attractions there - I confess the Grey Goose Slushy (lemon, vodka, ice) was a highlight.

Gill & Chris had pleasure is spotting the odd fashion victim. Which I was not - we declared my stetson a total success. Plus - the others never lost sight of me.
Ben - well, there were the occasional moments when he flagged. But I agreed with him: as Gill & Chris dashed off excitedly to shop for Christmas ornaments. In April. For example.

Apologies to Chris for this picture - but his reaction to eating the sour powder that came in 12", 24" or 30" tubes was priceless. And Thanks to Chris for being official photographer for the day - and for putting up with my regular suggestions for photo moments... Chris: you have the patience of a saint!

A lovely family day. Lots of smiles, laughs, vodka slushy and walking endlessly around cheery Disney sites. By the way - what's with the Spanish announcements? They sound so angry! Someone should tell them to chill. Though enjoying a holiday is slightly marred when you don't know if you can get home. And yes, I posted a "funny" on my facebook about the ash cloud, but seriously, I am as worried as everyone else. Enjoying a break away is in part conditional on knowing there is a home at the end of it...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

the same thing?

The Times is going to start charging for use of its website shortly; so I took the decision to go elsewhere for my web news. The Telegraph site (I'm sorry, I know it's desperately pro-Tory) is pretty good - lots of comment stuff, very artsy, reasonably good sports, surprising amount of faith news. And today there is an article, and a link to a letter, that at first seems totally reasonable - and then just wrong to me.

It's here. have a read & come back to me. The letter, if you click that link, is a way down that page & headed "jobs bar for Christians".

The idea is this: various people have either gone or been taken to court to uphold their right to their beliefs in the workplace. One was sacked for wearing a crucifix. One for offering to pray for a sick student. There is a couple in trouble for not wanting gays in their home - which is a B&B. A registrar wouldn't conduct civil partnership ceremonies. A relationship counsellor has his day before the appeals today because he won't give counselling to a homosexual couple.

OK. Here's my opinion for all its non-legal value.

No-one should get into trouble anywhere for wearing a cross. Or a crescent. Or any religious symbol - unless they are doing so simply and obviously to antagonise somebody else. But things of value are to be valued in an open society, even if we have different values. Likewise, offering to pray is not a threat but a kindness; at most, if someone has been offended, the teacher's job was not compromised or halted, and a quite word about making sure appropriate things were offered in appropriate places should have been all the repremand required.

The B&B. Is it a home or a business? And in the hospitality trade, should a Christian go into business with an attitude that some people are worth welcoming into your home and others should be judged and left at the door? Jesus welcomed approaches from prostitutes - not cos he wanted their trade coming his way, but cos he valued them as people. I feel something of this is missing in this tale.

I'm afraid I have no sympathy with the registrar at all. I'm a wedding registrar, and if people satisfy all the rules, I have to marry them. I do get folk coming my way that I think are probably unsuitable - and it really doesn't matter. It's not "Marcus Green" marrying them, it's the Vicar of St Catherine's. It's me in my professional role. The registrar who won't conduct civil ceremonies is confusing themselves with their job and ought to do their job or get a different one - and it's nothing to do with their faith.

Besides which, not liking gay partnerships and wearing a cross or praying for people are different issues. A cross is essential in Christian belief, if inessential in apparel. Prayer for others is commanded of us. Discrimmination against people because of their sexual practice is a modern fad which I hope the church gets over, the quicker the better. People are people. Allowing this kind of stuff to go past as distinctive Christian behaviour without stopping and going, "hang on a minute - " is about as ungodly as we get.

And I feel pretty similar about the relationship counsellor. If there are people in need and you are paid to help them, you do your best for the person in front of you no matter what your personal feelings are. They need help. It's your job. If you can help, help. If not - well, if you don't know what to do, suggest someone else. But don't say "God hates you so I'm not going to help". That's untrue, ungodly and the worst kind of lazy ethical thinking which we are suddenly not only allowing but it seems sanctifying in the church.

These things are not the same. It's time we weren't caught up in the moment but rather stopped it. Now.

Any opinions?


So after a month at home, I find myself resting once more. A planned break - planned since last summer, before all the unscheduled interlude of these past weeks. It's nice to be in the warmth again.

In the grand scheme of things, this strange period of my life will pass, and I will look back at it with wonder. With gratitude for friends at home and away, with deep knowledge of the God who has held me through these days, with wonder that a body can take quite so much stress. And then forget it and live on.

So I sit in the sunshine, resting. And plot my first encounter with an iPad. And think about Biblical images and ideas that refuse to leave me alone. And begin to to be dimly aware that soon I must plan for what lies ahead...

Thursday, April 08, 2010

The Nicest Things

My day has been made by two tweets on my twitter home page. Chad & Josh from Asbury - I was really touched! I found the times in the chapel there genuinely inspirational, and though I didn't talk about it much with you guys, I'd been having a rough ride & those times made a real difference to me. As did your friendship. And BBQ. Though my stomach never quite got the hang of that Chinese restaurant...