Monthly Archives: June 2009

Being Woven Out On The Web

– even when things go well we give the politicians no credit.  People’s quality of life depends on so many factors apart from the quality of their council – so people in Sussex are reasonably happy despite a poor council, but folk in Blackburn suffer impoverishment despite their highly rated local government.  Making change is like trying to shift a slag heap with a bendy spoon, says Polly.  What’s interesting are the comments at the bottom.  People want to hate politicians, and get angry at anyone who might dare to offend them.  One comment describes life in Edinburgh thus:

and all I can see is wrecked roads, inaccessible hospitals, unaffordable housing, closing shops, hundreds of CCTV cameras spying on me and utterly crappy public services which have been deteriorating for a decade or so.

Our schooling system is falling apart, the legal system’s a joke unless you’re a millionaire, petty bureaucracy bedevils everything we do. Our politicians are systemically corrupt, the civil service is neither civil nor much of a service – but both are feather-bedded by the poor folk who actually generate the country’s wealth.

Life is so much better in Halfway.



Thinking Like Katherine Esther Jackson

A suggestion is this: imagine that we are Katherine Esther Jackson, better known as Michael Jackson’s Mum.

The best mums have this thing where they must be realistic about their children’s failings, but at the same time they must always hope.  They must always hope that their errant children can be changed, always hope that light will shine in the darkness, and not be overcome.  Mother’s yearn for redemption, even after all the failure.

The Bible has a word for this maternal mix of honesty and hope.  The word is “mercy”.

On the ones we know who shine bright but are tormented by the dark, on them may God have mercy.

This original version of this was written for the Rutherglen Reformer

Praying for the Jihadists

Other links

“People we don’t agree with” = “People we care for” is a tough one

Folk start suspecting we have gone soft, start to become “one of them”.

That’s why we have to add the caveats.  Just so people know where we stand.  Part of the reason we don’t pray for enemies is we don’t like them.  The other reason is that we fear getting into trouble from our own side.  The best saints were often killed by their own side.

So does that make my own side my enemy.

So I should be praying for them too.  God also, it would transpire, loves them.

On Pilgrimage

The Way

Jesus frequently spoke of a the life of faith as a journey

In doing this he takes on the tradition the great Old Testament traveller, Abraham

Whose constant word is the word Halack, which in Hebrew meant to go, or to walk.

So Jesus spoke of life as a journey upon which we had the choice of a narrow path which lead to life, or a broad path which lead to destruction.

When the disciples asked to go where Jesus was going, he replied “I am the way”

And Jesus was a man who travelled in different villages

And who sent his disciples out on travels of their own

One of the most important New Testament stories is the story of Emmaus which is about a disciples meeting jesus on the Way

And journey is a critical feature of two of Jesus most famous stories, the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son.

But Jesus never subscribed it would seem, that journey was about going to a spiritual pilgrimage place where you got drugged up on God, before returning to the dreariness of home.

The great pilgrimage centre in Jesus’ day was Jerusalem

And when Jesus talks about Jerusalem towards the end of his life

It is not as the home of the Great Spiritual Drugstore, God’s Pharmacy of Discipleship Pills

No, Jerusalem is the place of martyrdom.

Pilgrimage On The Way

For the Celts, God was not discovered in any one place

But there was a special experience to be had in getting there.

Of travel

With it vulnerability

It’s unpredictability

With it’s painful dislocation from what is comfortable and easy

In that empty place, there were altogether richer treasures to be discovered.

It is akin to the difference between going to Fort William for your holidays

And walking the West Highland Way

One is about destination

The other is about getting there.

That is perhaps a bad analogy

Because the Celts did also believe in the destination but it was a destination in the next life

And Fort William is perhaps not the Scottish town most readily comparable to heaven.

One of the old Celtic poems is

Who to Rome goes

Much labour, little profit knows

For God on earth, though long you have sought him

You’ll miss at Rome unless you’ve brought him

For the Celts the emptiness of this world

The pain of it, the suffering of it

Was somehow a gift, because that seeming emptiness

The treasure of getting read for the next life was to be found.

But in these journeys of seeming difficulty

Of emptiness,

And there was no greater joy to the Celts than finding a desert – it made them like their great hero, Anthony of the Desert, and many place names like Dysart and Dissert and ancient versions of the word for Desert.

So you had the great story of St. Brendan, the Celtic Saint whom according to the epic of his journey, took a seven year journey, which entailed amongst other things the island of women, the island of ice (provoking discussion if he had actually discovered Greenland).

And Columba wrote of a friend of his Cormac, would go out eagerly seeking desert.

Both Columba and Cuthbert had their own islands where they would go to retreat, often for months at a time.

One of the interesting things about the stories that Leslie and Hilary both told was the presence of nothing-ness

For Leslie, it was the experience of looking to buy fish in a place where these had all run out

For Hilary it was going for two weeks to a place where there is nothing to do.

This contrasts with the experience of someone I was speaking to recently whose life is a disaster because life is constantly about finding another high – whether that be on a motorbike, out windsurfing, or in relationships which are high-energy but ultimately destructive.

Indeed it is something I have noticed frequently in young guys, these twitchiness when there is nothing to do, and the seeking of excitement, even when that is destructive excitement.

Life is not life

Life is the way to life

For the Celts there were three kinds of traveller

The first, destructive, was to travel and not be changed by journey

To be brittle and unyielding and unmoved.

I met people like this often in India, and there are Westerners all over the Costa Blanca, and in Embassies in the Old Empire who are like this.

The second was to travel, and to be changed and to meet with the people of the world

And to meet with God

And the final way is for those who cannot travel, because circumstance does not allow

But whose minds are the places of a thousands pilgrimages

Whose generosity is broader than their own narrow concerns

Whose vision is broad

And their insight deep

These words are from St. Columbanus

What then are you, human life?

You are the roadway of mortals, not their life

Beginning from sin

Enduring up til death

So you are the way to life, not life

For you are a real way

But not an open one

Long for some, short for others

Broad for some, narrow for others

Joyful for some, sad for others

For all alike hasting and irrevocable

A way is what you are but you are not manifest to all

For many see you and few understand you to be a way

For on a roadway none dwells but walks that those who walk upon the way dwell in their homeland.

So what is our way?

And where is Christ

Especially where is Christ in the boredom, the desert, the emptiness the monotony

And where does this way lead

When Jesus says to us “I am the way”

How is our faith?

Lead us spend some time in silence

And then we will sing an old journey prayer…

No Jesus Party At The End

Getting ready for Easter with Rob Bell at Mars Hill – 1st March 2009

Lamentations 1

This is a story about the city, which is personified as a she.

This is the city which used to be at the centre, and which is no longer what it was.  Everything feels like it has gone.

This is like the scene from “The Pianist”, where Spielman wanders ruined Warsaw, there are streets and streets of empty houses.

7:53 This is the book (in Hebrew) of “how?”  Even the sound of the word in the Hebrew has a catch in the breath, an exasperated exhalation, the wordless how?  Of being in a car crash, of being caught in the whirlwind.

9-13 mins Alternate voices between the objective narrator who speaks in the factual, and then voice of the woman who simply says “Oh Lord, Look at my affliction, for the enemy has triumphed” (v9) but says more and more as the chapter continues.

There is confusing about who is responsible for all this – is it God (v5), her enemies or the city herself.

This is painful and dark, but this is what we need to hear as a culture, this is what we need to be able to give voice to in difficult times.

14 mins God does not appear in the book.  There is no “Jesus party” suddenly at the end.

We need to learn to lament in a culture of denial.

We are brought up with the possibility that there is always something that we can do, and then we hit our limits and discover that this is not the case.

Look at the advert for iPod – at all the things that can be done, and yet despite this we have not managed to be better at life than we were.

Cosmetic surgery, which takes up billions of our economy, is a sign that we are in denial about dying.

Look at the difference between Western and Eastern funerals – and this shows that we are in denial about death, whereas in Eastern contexts, people are able to grieve, and show grief.

Because we do not grieve in the West, this shows up in other ways.

Look at the voice of the woman in Lamentations, the thing that she wants most of all is simply to be heard.

Look at the link between Rap music and lamentations.

65% of African American children grow up in single-parent families, and in 90% of those there is no contact with the father.  1/3 of African American men between 20-29 are in jail.

Do you not think that if you grew up in a culture like that you would have something to complain about, and when we complain and nobody is listening, what do we do, we get angry.

Look at the anger in rap music.

 We find surrogate places to grieve.  Celebrity magazines always sell more when the celebrity is talking about the break up, rather than when they are doing well.  When they talk about the grief, the pain of break up – this is a channel for our own pain and grief.

We need the place in our Church where our pain finds it voice, and to get ready for Easter we need to give voice to our pain.

When Princes Diana died, the response was huge, because it wasn’t just about our pain.  We wanted to wrap round something with our own pain.

The power of the lament is that the woman doesn’t stop, because when we voice our pain, that begins to change everything.  Until the woman speaks this, she can’t heal.

38 mins Quote from Kathleen O’Connor who has done a lot of work on this.

Lamentations names what is wrong

What is out of order in God’s world

What keeps human beings from thriving in all their creative potential

Simple acts of Lament expose these conditions, name them

Open them to grief and anger

And make them visible for remedy.”

Resurrecton – Metaphor or Miracle

14th April 2009

Implications of being able to say “He is risen indeed”

1. Your worth does not fluctuate (7 mins)

2. Your future is not at risk – the story of taps at Winston Churchill’s funeral

3. Your past is not unforgiveable – Charles Steinmetz from General Electric, who knew how to fix a machine

Two strategies that we have

1. Be perfect

2. The comparison strategy – we imagine that on the judgement day we find ourselves next to Saddam Hussein, but what happens if you are next door to Mother Teresa.

With possessions we tend to compare up, but with morality we tend to compare down

This is about a relationship, it is like we are engaged, but one day, there is going to be a wedding.



Match ‘Em

26th May 2009

The amazing things from Proverbs – the way of a ship on the seas, the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a snake upon a rock, the way of a man with a woman.

Deals with five myths about marriage:

1. Marriage is normal

2. Marrage is for my fulfillment – think of the patriarchal society of the ancient world, and the dissonance of marriage being about the husband “give himself up”

3. You will just know when the right one comes along – talks about the importance of making a good marriage choice – including the things that should be in common, the advantage of having a similar IQ, and the passage about being yoked

4. If you are in love, then marriage is easy

Valuing Perseverance

One study presented Chinese and American four to six year olds with two stories, as follows:

1. Little Bear watches his Mommy and Daddy catch fish.  He really wants to learn how to catch fish by himself.  he tries for a while but he cannot catch any fish.  Then he says to himself, “Forget it, I don’t want to catch any fish!”

2. Little Birdie is learning how to fly.  He jumps off a tree but falls down to the ground.  Daddy Bird and Mommy Bird bring him back up again.  He tries again and again, and he falls down again and again.  After trying many times, Little Birdie finally learns to fly.

Asked about these stories, the American chidren showed much greater interest in the methods by which Bear or Birdie could improve their performance, in the creative strategies that might work.  By contrast, the Chinese children focused on the virtue of concentrated persistence.  Nearly all the children in both groups liked the Birdie, after his valiant efforts.  However after the Bear story, nearly all the American like him despite his failure, whereas nearly two-thirds of the Chinese said they disliked him, critical of his lack of perseverance.

(from page 132)

Faith As Vaccine

When such people think badly of others, seeing them as malevolant or envious, and if they use religious beliefs like magic as a way of coping with their perceived enemies or to deal with stress, they are as susceptible to depression as non-believers. (from page 20)