Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Reality Check

I've been watching as the world around me has gone about it's merry little business.

Despite the constant news coverage with regard to the carnage left in the wake of Cyclone Nargis in Burma/Myanmar, nobody seems to have said a word. It's not come up in coffee breaks or "water cooler moments". People around me have been strangely silent on the topic.

Then it occurred to me that I too, had been strangely silent.

Now, with the news of an earthquake in China, that has also claimed many lives... it makes me wonder if the plight of the Burmese people will be forgotten.

I'm not going to let this matter slip quietly into the night without comment.

I'm so bitterly annoyed at the behaviour of the Junta. Is there anyone left in the world who does not think ill of their "leadership"? They persecuted and slew Buddhist monks who were protesting against the oppressiveness of their regime. Now they want all aid administered to their people, to go directly through them. They just don't have the manpower... why would anyone make such a stupid decision when so many lives are at risk?

I believe it is down to fear. When they have treated their people so poorly, their actions will be shown up for what they are in the light of international kindness - so they cannot allow that kindness to be seen.

And still the people die.

While all this is happening, Governments and agencies stand by longing to help... there is even a Godsend on the Burmese doorstep. The BBC has reported that US and Thai naval forces have by coincidence (not that I see it as coincidence), been training together in the area and the format of this training?

Disaster relief.

For pities sake it's all there on a plate... the Junta need to wake up and let their people be saved.

Here's a link to a UN pdf map detailing the areas worst hit.

Below is a video clip from the Disasters Emergency Committee that has been screened in the UK following the disaster. If you feel in a position to do something, please don't waste the opportunity:

Now we have the added tragedy of the earthquake in China. Again, thousands of people have died. China obviously has a better infrastructure than Burma and is better equipped to cope with the disaster. However if help is needed, I am sure the international community will be there. What is more, it might be very helpful for China to request help even if it feels able to cope. Why do I say that? I say it because it sets an example for the Burmese Junta to sit up and pay heed to.

When offering aid... does it matter that these countries have appalling human rights records?
Because when we are on the side of life, we do all we can to preserve it in each situation. That sometimes means speaking out against a nation in the wake of human rights abuses one day... and reaching out a helping hand to that same nation when it cannot save it's own people... whether they wish it or not.

Somethings transcend politics.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Coldplay - Viva La Vida

I've pre-ordered the latest Coldplay album on iTunes, this has enabled me to download the title track "Viva la Vida". I'll probably let you have my opinions when the album is out... but cryptic imagery of this song really captured my imagination. I actually think it's a veiled attack on a political figure. I'll say who I think that is and why, after you've had an opportunity to read the lyrics:

I used to rule the world
Seas would rise when I gave the word
Now in the morning I sleep alone
Sweep the streets I used to own

I used to roll the dice
Feel the fear in my enemies' eyes
Listen as the crowd would sing:
"Now the old king is dead! Long live the king!"
One minute I held the key
Next the walls were closed on me
And I discovered that my castles stand
Upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand

I hear Jerusalem bells a-ringing
Roman cavalry choirs are singing
Be my mirror, my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field
For some reason I can't explain
Once you know there was never
Never an honest word
That was when I ruled the world

It was a wicked and wild wind
Blew down the doors to let me in
Shattered windows and the sound of drums
People couldn't believe what I'd become
Revolutionaries wait
For my head on a silver plate
Just a puppet on a lonely string
Oh, who would ever wanna be king?

I hear Jerusalem bells a-ringing
Roman cavalry choirs are singing
Be my mirror, my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field
For some reason I can't explain
I know St. Peter won't call my name
Never an honest word
But that was when I ruled the world

Ohh...Hear Jerusalem bells a-ringing
Roman cavalry choirs are singing
Be my mirror, my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field
For some reason I can't explain
I know St. Peter won't call my name
Never an honest word
But that was when I ruled the world

I actually think the song is a veiled attack on Tony Blair. Yes, I know I could easily be attaching my own political bias onto the song... but I'll list my reasons and let you make your own minds up.

The chorus is my strongest reason for feeling the way I do. The character in the song hears Jerusalem bells a ringing... this could easily be a reference to Blair taking up a position as a Middle East peace envoy. Then we have a militaristic/quasi-religious reference connected to Rome and a line in later choruses that reads "for some reason I can't explain, I know St Peter won't call my name". These lines can't help but make you think of a connection to Roman Catholicism... to which Mr Blair is a "recent" convert. The character in the song is clearly struggling with something on his conscience which is why he knows deep down that St. Peter won't call his name... he knows he's done something that he feels he cannot atone for (Roman Catholic theology runs along the lines that you need to confess your sins to a priest to be absolved; also some catholics believe in purgatory, a system whereby you can only get to heaven by paying your sins off in a kind of limbo state - this is entirely without biblical foundation and opposes the teaching that Christ's sacrifice pays for the entire sum of our sins). It could therefore be a reference to the amount of casualties in Iraq (coalition and Iraqi), something that would take a heavy amount of paying if you subscribed to purgatorial theology.

Other elements of the song make reference to memories of an old king dying and a new king being crowned... which mirrors the early days of New Labour when all opposition was effectively neutered. Then we have the mention of betrayal... how everyone who believed the central character represented one set of ideals, actually discover they aren't representing them... and the head on the silver platter could easily be a reference to people wanting Blair out of office. The line following that talks of a lonely puppet on a string... and perhaps this could refer to Blair being a puppet to US foreign policy. There are also constant references to lies and deceit and Tony Blair was noted for his "spin". Funnily enough when he was in office at No.10, if you typed "liar" into Google, the top result was Blair's biography on the No.10 website.

The beginning of the song probably likens the central character to King Canute who according to legend told his people he had power over the sea... it betrays an air of arrogance. Actually to set the record straight, the historical King Canute had a reputation of being very good king. The reason he went out to the sea and tried to hold it back,was not to prove he had mastery over it... it was actually to prove to his people that he couldn't (because the silly idiots had got it into their heads that he was a godlike figure).

Anyway, that's my reasoning behind why I think the song is a veiled attack on Blair's political history.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree/disagree? If so, I'd like to hear your own ideas and alternative theories.

Not On My Watch.

I don't intend this to be huge post... I've got other things I feel I need to write about, but as it's Pentecost... I felt that there was a need to respond to an article I had read in The Times this week about the apparent decline in Christianity in Britain. I want to look at a couple of quotes:

"Church attendance in Britain is declining so fast that the number of regular churchgoers will be fewer than those attending mosques within a generation, research published today suggests.

The fall - from the four million people who attend church at least once a month today - means that the Church of England, Catholicism and other denominations will become financially unviable. A lack of funds from the collection plate to support the Christian infrastructure, including church upkeep and ministers’ pay and pensions, will force church closures as ageing congregations die."

I don't believe that Christianity is dying in this country... I think that it is going through a God driven restructuring. I believe that if the organised church crumbles in this nation, it's passing will only be mourned as much as the butterfly laments over it's chrysalis. What I mean by that, is that the emergent Church will be stronger, more beautiful and closer to what it should be. Most people I mix with, who have an active church life within the Anglican Church, are frustrated that so much money gets pumped into infrastructure. Congregations are crippled by the upkeep of crumbling buildings that are not as central to our faith as they were when they were first built. Take away the overheads and the money from tithing/collections, would flood into the parched areas of the Church where it is needed. At the time of the early church, money was used to look after widows, orphans and the poor.

During the last recession, a church in a fishing village in Scotland found it's numbers had dwindled; the village was crippled and unemployment was rife. The core group at the church had a radical idea. Where employment was lacking, they used what resources the church had... to employ the villagers in the community who were without work. They paid money for them to repair fences etc. The church numbers began to rise... this was nothing to do with preaching or people being coerced by "bribery". People started to come back first as a show of gratitude for the support the church had shown and out of curiosity. However, having had their physical needs taken care of... they began to discover that their spiritual needs were also being catered for.

If you look in the Bible, this is exactly how Jesus and the early apostles handled things. preaching often followed healing. The light you demonstrate in your actions and attitudes towards others, is the key to evangelism. The Bible says that if we preach and prophesy without love... then we are a sounding gong or a clashing cymbal. What better way to demonstrate Christ's real, unconditional love, than to actively look after the needs of the people around you who are in need. Some commentators (notably Martin Luther) have criticised the Epistle of James for running counter to the idea of salvation by grace through faith. In fact, what i believe James is actually saying in his letter, is that if we don't demonstrate faith by our actions and attitudes, then people will never truly see it.

It's true that God can move in a really dynamic way, perhaps through a powerful sermon... or by timely words... or just by divinely pouring out his Spirit on an unsuspecting community... but if we aren't reflecting the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, if we aren't responding to the Holy Spirit in our own walk, then people will pass by and maybe miss the moment. If people see us slaving laboriously with religion, they are going to cross the road and walk on the other side of the street very quickly. However, if we are living in a way that shows we actually understand the freedom Christ gives us, in our own daily lives... we are being active and faithful witnesses.

The article also makes a very bold conclusion that the report "makes it clear that Christianity is becoming a minority religion". This is slanted and demonstrates a lack of understanding of the complexity of modern Christianity in the western world. The Church of England and Methodist Church responded by pointing out the popularity of the Fresh Expressions movement.

The church is adapting... it is learning that you can't be conceited and sit on yesterday's laurels, you have to go to where people are... and this is what Fresh Expressions is all about... heck, for that matter it's one of the main reasons I blog.

Ministers might be in decline... but theological colleges are bursting, young people are deciding to reinterpret what ministry means in new and exciting ways.

Buildings may close but house groups are becoming a more and more important of church life.

Is Christianity dying out in the West? No way, not on my watch.

It's Pentecost and I'll let you into a little something I know...

The Holy Spirit is the church's best kept secret. More and more people are discovering the Spirit on their personal journey... and that's worth more than a thousand churches or ministers. A Spirit filled people... will light the way for others.

Come Holy Spirit.

Monday, May 05, 2008

A Tap on the Shoulder

I've been feeling much more buoyant over the past couple of days.

Part of it has just been down to being in the presence of good friends (some of whom I consider family), during a training session for the Scripture Union holiday I help out at... but something far more significant happened there... something that had the odd effect of making me beam from ear to ear (much to the bemusement of those sat around me at the time).

A couple of years ago, there was a passage of scripture from the Old Testament that was laid on my heart and it kept reoccurring in the bizarrest of circumstances - almost like the numbers on LOST keep cropping up.

On Saturday morning, there was a brief talk given by Sheila, on a passage from scripture. She didn't read out the reference... but as far as I was concerned, she didn't need to. I was very familiar with those words... which are like old friends in themselves to me. The passage actually comes from Isaiah:

"For a long time I have kept silent,
I have been quiet and held myself back.
But now, like a woman in childbirth,
I cry out, I gasp and pant.

I will lay waste the mountains and hills
and dry up all their vegetation;
I will turn rivers into islands
and dry up the pools.

I will lead the blind by ways they have not known,
along unfamiliar paths I will guide them;
I will turn the darkness into light before them
and make the rough places smooth.
These are the things I will do;
I will not forsake them. "
Isaiah 42:14-16

Sheila only read from verse 16 (the portion that I have emboldened), but it served as a tap on the shoulder and brought back so much for me. The passage speaks of God releasing his people from the things that bind them and changing them so that they can follow him in a new and exciting way, and inflicting hardship on those who try and keep God's people from the freedom he desires to give them. In Isaiah's day, that meant deliverance from the impending Babylonian captivity... this is not something that you may feel we have an obvious connection with today. However, God sent his Son Jesus to release us from the slavery of our sin, mistakes and brokenness. Furthermore... we all have a destiny to be claimed through Christ. He wants us to grow into the people the Father called us to be.... to take on his character and nature through the power and gifting of the Holy Spirit. Naturally God's enemies in the spiritual realm aren't too happy about people choosing to stand up in the power of God... and will do everything they can to keep us from claiming that prize, our inheritance. So there is a link between Isaiah's original readers and ourselves. Reading this passage always reassures me that God will always come for his people - to save an empower them to do his will. It always picks me up off the floor and inspires me to keep running.

Recently I had to submit a sermon outline for the preaching course I am on. I was asked to use an illustration to back up what I was saying. The passage was different... but the sentiment is the same and so I'll offer it to you as an example here:

You know something? Watching the end of that video, you'd think it ends on a bum note.

The athletes all talk about how sad it is because of how much the race mattered. No offence or disrespect to them, but in their professionalism I think they miss the main point as to why this clip resonates so strongly with people who saw it back in 1992. It's not the sadness of having lost the race that moves people... it's the love of a father for his son... and the son's determination to come home no matter his injuries and pain.

That image and the thoughts attached to it are worth a thousand gold medals to me, they are that inspirational. I will never forget.

As much as Derek Redmond's dad loved his son... how much more does God the Father love us? Not only will he come to pick us up off the track when we stumble... he'll restore us so we can finish the race he has given us to run.

Friday, May 02, 2008

The Priorities of Change and Connection.

Recently I've succumbed to a dawning realisation that Christians as people (and I of course include myself in this analysis), are too easily swayed by the things that we are emotionally attached to.

What I mean by that, is that we find it so easy to make changes in lifestyle for the tangible... yet when God asks us to make some kind of alteration ton the way we live out our lives... suddenly the temptation to become emotionally tightfisted, hovers ominously overhead.
It's all the more easier when you have empathic qualities... because it is then, that you seek out connection with others. Don't get me wrong here, empathy is a really great strength and blessing... but as with most strengths it carries with it an Achilles Heel. The weakness is that in seeking out connections, we can allow ourselves to embrace things that don't really fit who we are as an individual. I guess it's a bit like having a jigsaw puzzle with a few pieces from a different puzzle thrown in. The pieces might even physically fit... but the picture on the front is different to the rest of the puzzle.

This isn't to say of course that we shouldn't allow diversity to culture growth in our relationships with others... but we mustn't sell out on ourselves so easily. We shouldn't give up the things we care about, that matter to us or interest us... just because someone new comes along who doesn't really like them. Neither should we worry if we aren't interested in the things that other people are all the time. We are who we are... we don't belong to others, we belong to God.
If we allow ourselves to become enamoured and swayed by things other people say and do... without offering at least the same privileges to the one who created us and purchased us with his Son; isn't that idolatry?

If we allow people to change us, or if we allow their interests or companionship to rule us at the expense of our relationship with God... or at the cost of the identity he has given us (and I'm not only talking of the new identity we are given when we become a new person in Christ, but also generally just the individual character he has blessed us with), then we do sell out and become idolaters.
Don't let yourselves get robbed blind by an overwhelming need to fit in. Have faith that in this universe you do have a place and time, and there are people that God designed you to fit in with. Who cares if your superficial interests aren't to everyone's taste? As long as God's cool with it, sing your song - the song he set in your heart when he designed you.

That's what he made you for!
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