Thursday, August 28, 2008

Against and Beyond

A depth of faith I'm trying to echo and live from within where I'm at:

"I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief."
(Mark 9.24)

A cop-out?
Brian McLaren comments:
"If the word believing seems too soft a strategy for confronting (personal and) global crises, I would reply that believing seems like a soft or weak thing only when it is a domesticated belief. Tame believing for and within the dominant system may be easy, but wild believing against and beyond it turns normal people into heroes and history changers."
(Brian McLaren, 2007, Everything Must Change)

"I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief."
(Mark 9.24)

The first time someone dared to pray this prayer there was deliverance, freedom, healing, release and transformation. What could this against and beyond believing look like where you're at today? What could this against and beyond believing mean for how you engage with the world?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Steve Crow and the Sacredness of Sex

Someday, I'd love to grab a good fair trade coffee and sit down with Steve Crow (infamous for the "Boobs on Bikes" parade and for the production of "homegrown" porn) and have a conversation that'd go something like this:

G.K. Chesterton claims:
"Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God."

Steve, is that your experience? Do you encounter people involved in the sex industry looking for more? Is sex completely/totally satisfying or is it a signal of something else? Is there more to sex than simply "having sex"? Is sex telling a larger story or is sex the sacred substitute?

Philip Yancey notes:
"Uptight Christians forget the fundamental fact that God created sex. Having studied some anatomy, I marvel at God labouring over the physiology of sex: the soft parts, the moist parts, the milions of nerve cells sensitive to pressure and pain and yet capable of producing pleasure, the intricacies of erectile tissue, the economical and ironical combination of organs for excretion and reproduction, the blending of visual appeal and mechanical design... A connected view of life assumes this is God's world, and that despite its fractured state clues of its original design remain. When I experience desire, I need not flinch in guilt, as if something unnatural has happened. Rather, I should follow the desire to its source, in search of God's original intent."
(Philip Yancey, 2003, Rumours of Another World).

Steve, what is your image of Chhristianity and sexuality? Do you see that when Christianity desacralizes/devalues/limits sex to issues of guilt, immorality, sin, suppression it is ironically mirroring the reductionism of the porn industry?

C. S. Lewis observes:
"We use a most unfortunate idiom when we say, of a lustful man prowling in the streets, that he 'wants a woman'. Strictly speaking, a woman is just what he does not want. He wants a pleasure for which a women happens to be the necessary piece of apparatus. How much he cares about the women as such may be gauged by his attitude to her five minutes after fruition (one does not keep the carton after one has smoked the cigarettes)."

Steve, how do you see men and women? Are they simply "body-parts"/tools/objects/things of pleasure or is there in every man and women a slice of divinity, a person with a story that deserves and expects more?

Lastly, Scott M. Peck confesses:
“When my beloved first stands before me all naked, all open to my sight, there is a feeling throughout the whole of me; why?  If sex is no more than instinct, why don’t I simply feel horny or hungry?.... Why awe?  Why should sex be complicated with reverence?” 
(Cited in Mike Riddell, 1997, alt.spirit@metro.m3). 

Steve, have you ever felt awe, mystery, or wonder when looking at or making a porn flick? Have you ever felt "transcendence" within your own sexual life?

Someday we might even dare having a conversation like this at church. What would you say to Steve Crow? What would you say of sex?

Friday, August 15, 2008

In addition to that Malcolm...

See here for 6 parts of commentry on Faith, politics and voting by Brian Mclaren

Click here (scroll down this page and see the 6 parts)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Election Speak

The Election of 2008 is critical.
It is not simply a decision of electing a political party to sit in power; it is a matter of re-deciding our future together.

Listen carefully to the pre-election speak. Listen for how the political parties/policies/politicians promise to re-describe and re-imagine our future. Listen for stories of the “end”; stories of what our future is going to look like if the political promises get kept: what is the promised “end” of “Economic Growth”?; what is the promised “end” of “Personal Tax Cuts”?; what is the promised “end” of “Welfare Benefits”?; what is the promised “end” of “Law and Order”?; what is the promised “end” of “Sustainable Development”? Listen for whether these promises “end” in a future of consumerism or citizenship. It is a critical difference of possible realities.

Walter Brueggemann explains the difference:

“ - Consumers are those who, after they ‘eat and are satiated’,... ‘exalt self, forget, grow fat, serve other gods’, a collage of self-sufficiency, self-indulgence, self-congratulation, self-reference - autonomous and automatic - an ocean of self, characteristically growing fat.”

“ - Citizens are those who, after they ‘eat and are satiated’,... ‘bless and remember’, that is they turn life and satiation back to the Giver in order to acknowledge the gift, the return of given life to the giver of life, to situate self in the world of gift and demand well beyond self. in that transaction of return, the self has a role to play but never autonomous, never automatic, never guaranteed, never taken for granted, always engaged with the reference beyond self who commands, creates and guarantees.”
(Walter Brueggemann, 2006, The Word that Re-describes the World).

A future of consumerism or citizenship? It is the great either/or that has dominated the political history of planet earth. Every politician, from Moses and Pharaoh to Julius Caesar and King Herod from Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler to J.F.K and Fidel Castro from John Major and Margaret Thatcher to Helen Clarke and John Key, have had to engage politically with these options of what it means to be human. The Election of 2008 is now our opportunity to say how we choose to re-narrate our future together.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Imagine, Invent, Invest

Somehow I managed over a few weeks to find myself watching American Inventor. Its a show where a panel of 4 judges listen to sales pitches from wannabe inventors and then decide if that invention is worthy to go to the next round. I've missed the ending but there were some cool and quirky and downright weird inventions. A man's child was killed in a car crash because of her car seat so he invented this amazing capsule that simulates the womb like state and when struck with force it simply spins the child in such a way that there is little impact felt. (That is my terribly non-scientific description!) There was a cool pooper scooper thing that had potential. There was a chopped of dolls foot that you put jam into and then squeezed and the jam came out the toes (it was called toe jam). It was just creepy.

People have incredible imagination. I wonder where they got it from? Perhaps from the greatest inventor of all time...God! He created the heavens and the earth, he created the hummingbird to be able to fly backwards and the cockroach to be able to live 9 days without a head (I'm yet to work out why) He created the human body and none of us can really fully understand the intriquate design involved there. The bible tells us that we are made in the image of God. That ability to imagine and create is a reflection of He who made us.

As I watched the show over a few weeks at times I found myself saying "Only in America". Some of the inventions were definately for the improvement of the quality of life, others were about stroking the ego.

I wonder when we as God's imaginers will see lots of inventions created that improve the quantity of life. We all know that there are millions starving, dying of treatable disease and illness, and experiencing unnecessary pain and destruction. When will God's people imagine a better way, invest their time and their money and invent practical things to take care of the greatest thing ever created- the human life.

I think we can all be imaginers, inventors and investors. You might not see yourself as creative or being technically minded and able to build something, but don't forget - We all have the same DNA - God's. If he can create with a word, I wonder what we can create with ours? Perhaps that is a great place to begin.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Sometimes winning is to say we don’t want to fight that war any more!

This interview with Brian McLaren follows my previous posting about the nature of divisions in the church and how we should understand and handle them - a sermon by Simon Barrow Co-director of Ekklesia ‘Whose mission is it anyway?’
Brian McLaren is one of the leading US figures in forward-thinking evangelicalism, post-Christendom approaches to mission and 'the emerging church'.
In an address to the Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops (16 July - 4 August 2008) he said that Christians have to engage the rapid changes of post-modernity, and that cultural sensitivity on issues such as sexuality was a way to re-hear the Gospel message from each other, rather than dividing into factions.


The Archbishop of Canterbury said you were someone he’d wanted to hear speak to the bishops for a while now … how did you feel when he asked you?
I was very honoured, but also a little nervous! I was also very excited… I have a great belief in the Anglican spirit, with its roots going back even to the Celtic era.

Do you feel then that the world would be a poorer place were the Anglican Communion to be split?
Anybody who had the chance that I’ve had to be here would experience the deep spiritual life here, the deep spirituality and deep personal relationships. You can tell that these have real substance, whether or not there’s a split.
Those who are pulling away are depriving themselves of great resources and are depriving the Anglican Communion of their great resources.
Regardless of what happens, there will be something of an Anglican ethos that will carry on.

Tell me more about how the Western church needs to deal with a colonial approach to evangelism.
We have a lot to learn from the global south, but the North and South together have to realise that the gospel spread under colonialism was just a version of the gospel. Together they need to come up with a new vision.

When you talked about ‘un-embedding’ the gospel from the context into which the Western world has read it, there was an excited sense of “well, we can do things a new way, it doesn’t have to be either/or...”
I’m glad to hear you say it that way. In many difficult issues people can become polarised, or choose a point on the line between the two views. It’s an exciting moment when people realise there can be something outside that line. That’s the creativity of the Holy Spirit, to pull us away from that line.

What about people who say you are advocating turning your back on a couple of millennia of tradition, for the sake of speaking into one generation?
I’m sympathetic to the concern that we don’t abandon things that should be retained. Two hundred years ago, the church went through the painful process of abandoning the slave trade. That meant a deep shift in thinking about economics and human rights. World War II saw the end of colonialism, which had been theologically defended. The church has always demonstrated both continuity and adaptation.

Does our diversity prove a strength in this adaptation?
Sometimes [in a dispute] both groups can slip into a rhetoric of right and wrong, the good guys and the bad guys. I hope we can go on to a different perspective, a missiological perspective. In early years, the Anglican Communion has had to make missiological decisions about what behaviours it would allow in different cultures.

What is the message you want to give the bishops gathered here?
I hope first that they will feel a sense of hope. It is so easy to be concerned with the controversies we see in the headlines. I hope the bishops will turn from that to the primary concern of the church, which is making disciples of people who will then live in the way of Jesus.
I sensed this morning how present that idea is, that it’s time to turn outward again.
You know, I grew up in the Vietnam War era. In the end people lost interest in that war, they said this is not a war worth fighting. Sometimes winning is to say we don’t want to fight that war any more.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Whose mission is it anyway?

A very thoughtful sermon for all at Lambeth to reflect on Simon Barrow who is co-director of Ekklesia

"Some section of the Anglican Communion are convinced that only their narrow vision of what is permissible in faithfulness to the Christian message is adequate. Those who disagree must be excised or shunned. We have been here before. Indeed the first Council of the early church in Jerusalem had to confront deep divisions over the meaning of the Gospel - and came up with what some would these days dismiss as a 'fudge'. Actually, it may have been rather radical. This is a sermon for the Feast of St Peter and St Paul (who were sometimes at each others' throats), based on the following lectionary texts: Zechariah. 4.1-6a, 10b – end; Acts 12.1-11; 2 Timothy 4.6-8, 17-18; Matthew 16.13-19.

It is an interesting feature of our modern culture, one fast losing touch with the religious vocabulary its older generations were raised on, that it often re-appropriates or re-shapes terms previously anchored in scriptural and ecclesiastical traditions.
Take ‘mission’, for example. In spite of waves of scepticism about ‘management speak’, the word remains ubiquitous in the business world, in voluntary organisations and among project developers – where a clear ‘mission statement’ – a forthright declaration of purpose that is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound (“smart”, as the acronym has it) – is central to the understanding of a well-run, well-directed organisation.

In Christian circles, however, mission is often a divisive rather than a unifying concept, with some regarding it as a mandate to bring out their sledgehammers, and others avoiding it like the plague! So if the secular world has turned ‘mission’ into a matter of money, measurability and mastery (obsessions which can be equally tempting for church leaders), Christians have often behaved as if the choice is somehow between bludgeoning people in the kingdom of God or finding it too embarrassing to mention God at all. Some better ways forward are surely needed.
But if we expect to turn to the New Testament for neat alternatives, we are liable to be disappointed. First, because the arguments and differences of perspective which we find in today’s churches are equally present (albeit in significantly different form) among those who first sought to live out and communicate the Gospel, the evangel, the good news in a strange world. Second because, far from being preoccupied with sustainable organisational development, the first apostles were often having to contend with the menace of kings (“about this time, Herod launched an attack upon certain members of the church”, we read in Acts), the reality of exhaustion (“my life is already being poured out upon the altar,” Paul writes to Timothy), or the threat of betrayal (Peter’s great confession is soon found wanting in the most dramatic way possible as Jesus faces his death).

The Gospel can be a dangerous business, then. And the danger does not just come from without. It is possible that both Paul and Ignatius, pioneers in the controversial Gentile mission, died in partial consequence of the betrayal of Jewish Christians (those loyal to James and Peter). Similarly, the followers of Paul who helped shape the Johannine tradition existed in great enmity with Jewish Christians – as texts from St John which speak harshly of “the Jews”, and which were disastrously deployed in the twentieth century, make plain.

Conflict, then, is at the heart of the Christian story. It is not new, and it can be deadly. How, then, do we handle it? That is the question confronting Anglicans and others right now. The fact that the recent gathering of those who want to see stricter rules and expulsions, to resolve disagreements about who is and who is not welcome at the table of Christ, has been taking place in Jerusalem is especially poignant. For Jerusalem and Antioch were the two places where arguments over the distinct missions of Peter and Paul took shape – one resting on the conviction that adherence to inherited Jewish rituals and codes was crucial to Christian integrity in the future, the other believing that experimentation, change and development were possible according to the operation of the Spirit.

In this struggle, Paul was a liberal and Peter was a conservative, says modern typology. As with today, the reality was much more complicated. The Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 (which is a bit hard to tie up with other accounts of the arguments) looks like a classic Anglican-style fudge. Paul, who seems to have lost the tussle in Galatia, not least because he had little scriptural precedent on his side, was allowed to continue his work from several centres in the East Mediterranean without making circumcision a requirement, while the Jerusalem church retained a strong traditional identity.

However, the Council did retain prohibitions against Gentile converts eating meat containing blood, or meat of animals not properly slain. But Paul seems to ignore this among the Corinthians. Likewise, he opposes circumcision in Philippians (“mutilation” he calls it), while praising the same in the different context of Romans and permitting Timothy to undergo the ritual in Acts 16. He was, it seems, a pragmatist and a radical all at once. And while he may have lost influence in Antioch, his revisionism won out in the end – otherwise we, here, might still be eating kosher food. Peter too, whose restrictive ethic was dubbed “clearly wrong” by Paul in Galatians, was prepared to put aside his reservations in the particular case of the converted Roman centurion Cornelius, when a dream persuaded him to relax his attitude to ritual purity.
What Peter says when he sees the undeniable faith of a pagan is, “Who was I to hinder God?” But Paul was the one to recognise most forcefully that, in practice, the love of Christ is larger than our social, cultural and, yes, religious limitations. For social reasons, God-fearing gentiles were not able to become full Jewish proselytes. Nevertheless they were attracted to the monotheism and the ethical rigour of the faith. By sitting on its edges they were therefore able to benefit without having to betray their own cultural heritage. So it was to the edges that Paul went, to discover God at work where many least expected it. The result was that less than 20 years after the death of Jesus, pagans and Jews were sharing table fellowship in Syria.
This should have been unthinkable, and to the purists and rigorists it was. But Paul, remember, preached about of a Jewish reform prophet embodying acceptance by God and triumphing over the power of death without a total embracing of the weight of the Law as a precondition. This was manna from heaven. It pulled in recruits from the gentile fringe while having relatively little impact among the Jews.

What does all this have to teach us today? Well, it might suggest to us that Jerusalem isn’t always right – or wrong! It might make us ponder the idea that if we take the Bible seriously, then scriptural precedent, as St Paul shows, should not become an obstacle to the Good News and to God’s gracious work among those we may have come to think of as unclean or unworthy. The mission of Acts is to the ends of the earth, not to the end of our tethers. Certainly, it should make us question those ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ labels that get used these days to tell us who the goodies and baddies are. When the Gospel of God’s life-changing love in Christ is unleashed it subverts those categories too, which is why people who posit Jesus against Paul and then dismiss Paul in the name of progress are so mistaken, it seems to me.

I have no idea whether the Anglican Communion will hold together after the next Lambeth Conference. Part of me, to be honest, almost no longer cares. The sight of Christians tearing each other apart is so distressing and counterproductive, that going on perpetuating it through structures and resolutions which bear little relationship to the reality of who we are seems to me to miss the point entirely. That said, I have no wish to excise those I disagree with from the Body of Christ. Peter and Paul, I suggested earlier, held “diverging commitments exercised in great faithfulness to the truth of a person” – Jesus Christ. “And you… who do you say I am?” Jesus asks Peter, and us, according to Matthew.

The answer is that Jesus is the one who leads us beyond what we imagine of limited persons and into the very heart of God. He is the Messiah, the offspring of the Most High – the decisive evidence that God blesses the messy vulnerability of texts, history and flesh; so that none of us dare limit the love that can bend the divine to reach lower than we could ever hope to stoop.
But there is a warning attached to this. In receiving the kingdom of God and preaching it, as we are bound to do, we will continue to draw circles that some will fall within and some without. And for this we are answerable before heaven, as Peter was when the cock crowed before Gethsemane, and as Paul was when he decided to break the religious rules and to join with those who told Emperors that there is another kind of king, Jesus.

Jesus, remember, was clear that the Spirit of the Lord was calling him to proclaim good news to the poor, not the self-satisfied; the sick and the subjugated, not the well and the worthy. In following this Jesus, we will take risks and make mistakes. But that is not the worst thing. The worst thing is to think that it is our rules, structures and institutions, rather than God’s capacity to remake lives, forgive sins and free us from bondage, that really counts.
For “all at once, a messenger of the Lord stood there and the cell was ablaze with light. He tapped Peter on the shoulder to wake him. ‘Quick! Get up!’ he said, and the chains fell away from Peter…”
Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia. He blogs at and his website is at This article is adapted from an address given at St Mary Arches Anglican Church, Central Exeter, on 29 June 2008.