Monday, December 31, 2007

Farewell Parky

Give yourself a treat and watch the Peter Kay on the last episode of Parky. While you are at it, I also listened to an excellent Clapton interview driving to a party yesterday evening. He has lived a life that he calls 'one of spiritual imperfection' and what a life.

A counter-cultural life

Over the last few weeks I have done a chapter a day of this book in the early mornings. In it, Peterson explores the life of Jeremiah. Be honest, would you ever take the time out to study Jeremiah in any depth or with sufficient clarity of understanding? Doing so with this book and in the extraordinary hands of Eugene, 'Run with horses' has been a joy. I am biased because I love all Peterson's work but the quotes at the beginning of each chapter are alone worth the price of the book. I share EP's dislike of cosmetic religion and take his warning that size of church and a glamourous exterior is not the markers of spiritual health. Jeremiah tells us in fact that sometimes the opposite is true. I will try as best can to heed this great prophets lessons.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Things you and I missed in 2007

I have recently subscribed to Prospect Magazine which is a good and sometimes challenging read and keeps the grey matter on its toes. They had a good article this month about the most overrated and underrated things of 2007 and here are a selection:

A TV series called The Wire was the 'most brilliantly achieved and sophisticated drama ever made for television. Orbitals 'Live from Glastonbury' was a 'masterpiece' and apparently 'they are to electronic music what Dylan is to folk'. The biography we missed was Sylvia Queen of the Headhunters and the foreign film was a Palestinian film called Out of Place. The Wigmore Hall was the venue we unwisely neglected and is 'the greatest source of spiritual pleasure in Britain'. Charles Taylor's The Secular Age is 'a major intellectual event ' but sound rather thick and complicated. The documentary called 'The Bridge explored suicide and is a 'profound and beautiful story of love, loss and despair.' The most underrated polemic was 'Who controls the internet: Illusions of a borderless world' and the piece of history was Daniel Mendelsons; The Lost:A Search for Six of the Six Million.. Other things we missed were the London Jazz Festival and the films Superbad and Death at a Funeral which was 'the most underrated film of the year'.

Patient cultivation

I remember my old Vicar always used to say when speaking about vision that we can achieve far less in one year than we ever imagine and far more in ten. Most of us are always making resolutions for the one and not the ten. We all search for the quick-fix and want a new job, a new relationship, a better marriage and hope upon hope that we can achieve all this by mid-February. Cultivation is a much slower process and reaps much greater rewards but only for those who are prepared to wait.

So what's the secret. Well to call it a secret would be misleading but it is in simple terms the practice of what are called the disciplines, the tried and tested spiritual practices of centuries of Christian tradition. But why bother? Again, that depends on what one wants to build and how long to are prepared to wait. Of course the short cut can look impressive on the outside but will it last? John Fowles wrote; ' I can stick artificial flowers on this tree that will not flower; or I can create the conditions in which the tree is likely to flower naturally. I may have to wait longer for my real flowers; but they are the only true ones'.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Blue like Jazz as a Movie

If you haven't read this book do. Blue like Jazz is becoming a movie.

Sergeant Pepper at 40

For any one who loves music this is a treat that I listened to as I drove from London to Norfolk. Radio 2 took the original producers of this album and assembled a list of contemporary artists to try and record the songs on two-track recording equipment. They discovered the genius of the Fab Four to a more extreme level. Bryan Adams shows his talent over the younger bands who really struggled without their computers.

It's called Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band

Here as a taster is the Kaiser Chief great rendition of 'Getting Better'.

Happy listening.

Christmas present reading

I had my Christmas present opening and was thrilled to get lots of books and of course some socks. The thickest tome was the book that got the biggest thumbs up in the Spectator as book of the year. It is called Austerity Britain and is a fascinating read. Giving its length you may however just prefer to read a review of the books of the year in which I discovered itit! Over last summer a friend mentioned the enjoyment she had got from reading the letters of Mozart so they were on the list. I also got the biography of Benjamin Franklin by the same author as the Einstein biog I read when in Tacoma. I also got the new Maclaren and my journaling book.

Who do I want to make myself?

One of the 50 questions I have been pondering is 'Who am I' and had not made much progress. Before I had really reflected on this question I came across a quote and it changed the question and rather improved it. Here it is.

"I must register a certain impatience with the faddish equation, never suggested by me, of the term identity with the question, "Who am I?" This question nobody would ask himself except in a more or less transient morbid state, in a creative self-confrontation, or in an adolescent state sometimes combining both; wherefore on occasion I find myself asking a student who claims he is in an "identity crisis" whether he is complaining or boasting. The pertinent question, if it can be put into the first person at all, would be, "What do I want to make myself, and what do I have to work with?" Erik H Erickson 'Identity, Youth and Crisis' Page 314

Ricky Gervais and the Archbishop

This is an interesting interview. How do you think Rowan did? What struck me is that, celebrity or not, Ricky is asking the same old questions. Suffering, religion, life after death......Great stuff.

Watch them on Five Live Ricky and Rowan. Enjoy.

Friday, December 28, 2007

2008: Fifty Journaling Possibilities

I have kept a journal for quite a few years and find it to be a very helpful thing. It is mainly as an aid to my scripture reading but also serves as an encouragement. However hard the journey gets looking at my journals reminds me of the distance I have already travelled. I have read lots of books on journaling and this is not a bad one. The best one to get you started is Ron Klug's 'How to keep a spiritual journal'

Here are 50 suggestions I found in the appendix and I share them to, at very least, stimulate your looking ahead to 2008. Starting a journal might a good thing to do so why not try. I can recommend Moleskine's which you can buy on line or in Waterstones. The large plain in my journal of choice.

1. On a scale of 1-10 (10 being intimate), how close do you feel to God today. Write for a while to figure out why you are, say, 6 rather than 10
2. Try paraphrasing a familiar passage of scripture
3. Turn a paraphrase of scripture into a poem
4. Copy the Lord's Prayer into your journal expand on it.
5. The Gospel writers record Jesus asking over one hundred questions. Find some of those questions and pretend that he is asking them of you. How do you respond?
6. List all the roles that you play; your talents, your education, your experience, your expertise, your friends, your ministry. Try to write several pages answering the question who am I?
7. Create a page of goals and dreams. Don't be worried about practicality, just dream. If you could be anyone, who woould you want to be? If you could have any job during your lifetime what would it be?
8. What do you want to be remembered for?
9. Go back to the pages where you listed who you are. Now imagine that you are unable to d any of those things. Spend some time pondering the truth that Jesus' love for you would not change. If you were in accident and had to spend the rest of your life unable to move, Jesus would love you no less than he does today. His love is not contingent on what you do. He loves you fully. Write for a while to let this truth sink deep into your soul.
10. Write about a time you felt ashamed?
11. What is "the Gospel"?
12. Select a parable of scripture and draw it
13. What ministry has God uniquely entrusted to you? What goals can you set for this ministry?
14. Consult a concordance and write out several NT verses that use the word ashamed. What does Paul say about being ashamed in 1 and 2 Timothy? Is Jesus ever ashamed? Reread what you wrote about a time you felt ashamed.
15. Write a letter to Jesus. Begin with "Dear Jesus" and tell him anything you want. The only requirement is to be honest. Use his thoughts from the scriptures and have him respond in a letter back to you.
16. Are you feeling squeezed into someone else's mould? Write
17. Write out a passage of Scripture. Note your fleeting thoughts and reactions as you copy it.
18. Give yourself permission to be confused. Ask Jesus a hard question. How do you think he would answer it.
19. Write a conversational dialogue between yourself and an unsaved friend or family member. How might you open a conversation into spiritual things? How would you anticipate they would respond?
20. Draw a picture of your spiritual journey. Write about it for 20 minutes
21. Write a prayer for someone in your family
22. Write down some ideas from a scripture passage you have been studying. Write down the things that have been happening to you at work and home and church. Write down what you have been thinking about. Reflect on what the Lord might be saying to you through his word, your circumstances and his still small voice. Can you boil this down to one sentence?
23. Read Isaiah and find fifty questions God asks
24. Brainstorm a list of characteristics of a soldier. What does it mean to be a soldier in your Christian life?
25. What are you afraid of?
26. What one thing is frustrating you the most? Why might you want it to be that way? What's in this problem for you?
27. Dialogue journal through a passage. (John 1:29-34, John 1:35-42; Luke 7:36-50, Luke 19:1 are great passages to begin with)
28. Write five to ten pages of notes as you read a book. Be sure to include what you think as well as what the author thinks
29. Write your own parable
30. What personal risks or fears or people stand in you way of truly being able to follow hard after God
31. What are some motivations you may need to confess?
32. Select a topic that you'd like to learn more about, a question you would like to answer or a problem that you'd like to resolve. Write about it. As new questions come to mind, keep pursuing the answers.
33. Find something in nature that can remind you of a quality or a character quality you would like to grow in. Take a photograph of it. Hang it on the wall. Write about it. What are the characteristics you'd like to develop? Why is this image especially meaningful to you?
34. Create a place for your devotional items; it may be a basket, or a bag, or a place at your desk. Stock it with 3x5 cards, pens, pencils, calligraphy pens, markers, paper etc
35. Choose a favorite passage of Scripture. Make a picture using just the words of scripture
36. Write a letter to someone you love and send it
37. Create a poster, not for the finished product but to enjoy the process of creating
38. What is God speaking to you about these days. Write to discern his voice
39. Write your testimony in a thousand words or less
40. Whom do you admire? Choose someone you know personally. What can you learn from them?
42. Find a secular non-fiction book n a topic of interest to you. Read it with the perspective that the author is you mentor. What can you learn from him or her?
43. Keep a travel log of your next trip
44. Write a prayer of confession that you could use for the rest of your life.
45. What can you learn about hearing from the parable of the sower in Luke 8:1-15? How does the rest of chapter 8 relate to the parable?
46. Create a book of worship of your own
47. Create your own extended metaphor of the Christian life.
48. Add an illustration to a journal entry
49. Write a villanelle ( I confess I don't know what this is !)
50. Reread Song of Songs. Choose a favorite chapter to mediate on. Write yourself and the Lord into the story.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Tim Keller has written a book

Tim Keller has a book coming which is the source of great expectation. He has written the book he wishes he could give people seeking God that would be a Mere Christianity for the 21st Century. Read what he says about it himself and one of the first reviews from Publishers Weekly:

The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism
Timothy Keller. Dutton, $24.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-525-95049-3
In this apologia for Christian faith, Keller mines material from literary classics, philosophy, anthropology and a multitude of other disciplines to make an intellectually compelling case for God. Written for skeptics and the believers who love them, the book draws on the author’s encounters as founding pastor of New York’s booming Redeemer Presbyterian Church. One of Keller’s most provocative arguments is that “all doubts, however skeptical and cynical they may seem, are really a set of alternate beliefs.” Drawing on sources as diverse as 19th-century author Robert Louis Stevenson and contemporary New Testament theologian N.T. Wright, Keller attempts to deconstruct everyone he finds in his way, from the evolutionary psychologist Richard Dawkins to popular author Dan Brown. The first, shorter part of the book looks at popular arguments against God’s existence, while the second builds on general arguments for God to culminate in a sharp focus on the redemptive work of God in Christ. Keller’s condensed summaries of arguments for and against theism make the scope of the book overwhelming at times. Nonetheless, it should serve both as testimony to the author’s encyclopedic learning and as a compelling overview of the current debate on faith for those who doubt and for those who want to re-evaluate what they believe, and why. (Feb. 14)

Do you believe in God?

I awaken every morning like most do to the radio. My station of choice is Five Live and their breakfast show is the Today program with a sense of humour. This morning, the new leader of the lib-dems Nick Clegg very bravely agreed to answer ANY question that was thrown at him in quick-fire succession. The third question you could tell completely took him by surprise. "Do you believe in God?"...... there was a long pause and then he said "No".

As with all things he now has to live out what he said sincerely and honestly in a sensitive and analytical political climate. He has since qualified his assertion with the news that 'His wife is a Catholic', though how the two are linked is not entirely clear. This was an excellent and revealing radio format and all credit to Clegg for his honesty and frankness in the face of some really tough questions. We should put more of our sound-bite, media managing leaders under this penetrating spotlight.

More of this please Five Live

Monday, December 17, 2007

Kaiser Chiefs

Got my old bones out to see some 'rock' on Friday and really enjoyed it. I must say I thought Earls Court would be filled wth hoody wearing youths rather than nearly middle-aged ex-marketing executives and in fact I was far from the oldest there. A generation that has said no to worshipping God is still worshipping something. My friend turned to me half way through and shouted over the din "I bet you are the only member of the clergy here". I think she may have been right, though am happy to be proved wrong.

Obama seeing the light

Andrew Sullivan , the Sunday Times US Correspondent, wrote this last Sunday describing the conversion of a potential President in waiting. We are right to be sceptical of the religious protestations of those seeking votes to gain them political power but this has the air of truth and I am encouraged that Sullivan considers it a landmark moment. He is not one usually overly disposed the religious right or left.

The US landscape is much more religiously focused than here and it is easy to recall Alistair Cambell's words to Tony Blair saying "We don't do God". They very much do in the States. In this campaign alone you have Mitt Romney, a devout Mormon and Huckabee, a former Baptist pastor. Discerning who is God's man or women is a somewhat tricky business amidst so much faith mixed with politics. Anyway, form your own view on Barak Obama in the knowledge that this man may well soon be the most powerful leader in the world.

“The best speech Obama has ever given was in Connecticut in June 1997. In it, he describes his religious conversion. “ One Sunday, I put on one of the few clean jackets I had, and went over to Trinity United Church of Christ on 95th Street on the South side of Chicago. And I heard Reverend Jeremiah A Wright deliver a sermon called The Audacity of Hope. And during the course of the sermon, he introduced me to someone named Jesus Christ. I learnt that my sins could be redeemed. I learnt that those things I was to weak to accomplish myself, he could accomplish with me if I placed my trust in him. And in time I came to see faith as more than just a comfort for the weary or a hedge against death, but rather as an active, palpable agent in the wrld and in my own life.

It was because of these newfound understandings that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity one day and affirm my Christian faith. It came about as a choice not an epiphany. The questions I had didn’t magically disappear. The sceptical bent in of my mind didn’t suddenly vanish . |but kneeling beneath the cross on the South Side, I felt I heard God’s spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth and carrying out His works.’

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Balfour and the 'Destiny of Britain'

Just been to see the screening of a film about the history of the relationship between Israel and Britain. It is called the Destiny of Britain and was quite thought provoking stuff about the Balfour Declaration. I was the source of much humour and derision amongst my pals for my not thinking that Israel automatically means the church under the New Covenant and have commented in the past on my respect for Dwight Pryor who I listened to teaching on this subject earlier this year. What struck me about this film is that many of my heroes of the faith were included and so for that sake, amongst others, it is worth a watch. Simeon, McCheyne, Spurgeon, J C Ryle, Moody and the Wesleys, not to mention the Puritans. Will no doubt cause a thought-provoking Christmas debate among the few who are interested.

There is a good new biography of Balfour just out for those like me who need to read more on this subject.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Everything is spiritual

As I am on my emerging church exploration, check out Rob Bell on You Tube. He is a great communicator and is saying something important and thought-provoking to our changing time. Lots of people don't agree with him but sometimes that makes me like someone even more. Check out his book Velvet Elvis and if you haven't read it yet put it on your Christmas list.

A warning to my readers

Do not think me gentle
because I speak in praise
of gentleness, or elegant
because I honor the grace
that keeps this world. I am
a man crude as any,
gross of speech, intolerant,
stubborn, angry, full
of fits and furies. That I
may have spoken well
at times, is not natural.
A wonder is what it is.


Wendell Berry

This guy can play the guitar.....

Check out the amazing Andy McKee playing Drifting. Makes my five chords seem rather tame....!

Generous and encouraging

I have over the last couple of years read most of the writings of Brian McClaren and enjoyed them and this is my latest read. He is one of the voices of what is called the 'emerging church' and I have found his views refreshing and helpful. He seems to be a man full of grace and truth but the truth part he sees as a pilgrimage rather than an already obtained absolute. In much the same way as Peterson he calls us to recognize that we are on 'the way' rather than already having arrived.

"The achievement of "right thinking" therefore recedes, happily, farther beyond our grasp the more we pursue it. As it eludes us, we are strangely rewarded: we feel gratitude and love, humility and wonder, reverence and awe, adventure and homecoming. We shout hallelujah, and we weep tears of joy. So we pursue it all the more until the end when we find it has been pursuing us and we are caught up into the Pursuer we have so long pursued" Page 336

Check out the emergent village to hear more...

Saturday blog-sweep

 Some interesting books for pastors The State we're in Attack at dawn Joseph Scriven Joy comes with the morning When small is beautiful