The power of prayer
We've recently joined a house group at St Barnabas, the church we've been attending for a few months now. It has been such a lovely experience to get back into religious conversation as I've really been out cold since the Chaplaincy. It's also rather comforting to finally meet some locals out side of the office and begin to make some potential friends. Last night was only our second time as they're fortnightly, but it was encouraging to meet with other Christians and share together. But it was the praying last night that struck the deepest chord. I guess I've also been out of practice with that, but during the prayers last night I asked for help with my inner calm. One of the chaps prayed for me, while I didn't feel quite confident to pray out loud for the others so someone else kind of prayed on my behalf (which is a niggle from my CU days I could go on about). Anywho, today I've been feeling exactly that inner calm, it's really been quite wonderful. Now it might well not be a result of what the chap prayed exactly, but I really believe prayer is a great thing. Even if it's just the vulnerable act of expressing a concern you harbour about yourself, essentially telling someone about it (a friend or God) really is a great thing. I guess that's why the first step of AA is what it is.
About that niggle - its always annoyed me this, in CU cell groups etc. at the end when everyone asks for something they want prayer for, then everyone is invited to a time of prayer to pray about these things. The annoying thing is when there is this sense that if something isn't mentioned out loud then it hasn't been prayed for. The result is usually that everyone take it in turns to pray for each other, and probably is either concerned they'll forget some thing or someone, or worse still that they forget the name of the person next to them that they're praying for (my usual scenario). Some folk, especially the louder, more confident, more evangelical brothers often lack the confidence to let people's silent prayers fill the space. It seems that unless there are positive 'yes lord's and 'umm jesus's emanating from the collective, then people clearly aren't paying attention. Still, at least people are praying.
Another point that came up last night, and last Sunday, is the idea of missional communities. People tend to think that house groups might be missional, but more likely they're not as they are a place for Christians to come together to study and pray, and thats fine. But when people come together with a common focus which is mission, then something else is born. These communities are often quite different, more diverse, more filled with non Christians, and not necessarily overtly preachy. But through loving and walking together mission happens. One of the best examples I can think of is the Bethesda Backpackers, which although a church walking group and no really a missional community, is quite often just that - a great comfortable place where sharing God's love can happen at a real and simple level. What struck me last night is that this is exactly unlike what the CU mission ever was - this was promoted as a mission, and there was a great deal of preaching, and a great deal of prayer. But I rather think that what they lacked was a reality where people join together, faithful and non alike, in a common expression of life with the side effect of love. I wonder if St Barnabas has a walking group...
Was Jesus the great introvert? I'd never considered before that Jesus might have been an introvert. I just assumed that he must have been an extrovert as that is the way that modern society highlights 'great' leaders. But this excellent TED talk by Susan Cain entitled The Power Of Introverts made me think.
If you're an introvert, or even if you're not, this is a wonderful video to watch. But what struck me most was Susan's passing comment regarding the great spiritual leaders of the past being introverts and how nowadays we seek out leaders in entroverts. I'd not considered Jesus in these terms, and rather more am reminded of countless sermons I've heard by preachers who seem to remark the profund confusion at Jesus's request for solitude or subtelty following a miricle or in his need for some quiet time. They put it down to some cunning secret plan he has to not reveal anything so that it makes more of an impact when the big revel comes. Or otherwise they use it as a side point to remind us that we're not doing our own quiet time enough (no one ever explained to me what quiet time was, it was simply assumed in CU that everyone did it (and also that everyone didn't do enough)).
But perhaps Jesus was simply more human than we think he was. Perhaps he was just one of life's intoverts who did these things, not from a desire to be celebrate, but becase he had to. It rather makes him more real and approachable I think.
So lent has been and gone, Easter has been celebrated, Jesus is risen (again?) and I've blogged more in the past 40 days than possibly in the last 400. This has been good, really good in fact. I've found it challenging, I certainly failed to make a blog post every day as you can see, but the aim was not necesserily to get me into the habbit of a daily blog - I don't think I've got enough interesting things going on to make that truly worthwhile - but rather just to get into the habbit of keeping updates to this site. It's not always eacy to find the time to write, and sometimes when I do have the time nothing comes to mind. Othertime when interesting thoughts bubble up in my head I'm not near a computer to jot it down (this is most frusttrating as I then inevitable forget what it was I was going to say and the idea is lost forever.
One of the things I have taken up during lent has been Twitter which has been quite enjoyable. I've made some friends there and found it exciting to be able to give direct feedback on BBC programs to the people who present them. Having embedded my twitter feed at the top of my homepage means that at least there is likely to be something new to read every time you visit, even if it is only 140 characters.
I've also sent a few more personal email to friends I've not spoken to for a while. Either way this lent has been about communication and that has been a good thing. There has been, for quite a while, an item in my to-write list about a prayer for communication. That might make a good conclusion, lets have a go:
Lord of all hearing, in this time of mass communication,
grant us the space to communicate deeply with one another
Encourage us to make time for us to talk to others
But most of all enable us to listen
to the people near us, to the world around us, and to you within us.
Hmm, might need some more work that. Oh well, he listens to our hearts more than our words.
Bread and Wine
I woke up musing this morning about the similarieties of bread and wine. I've been really enjoying baking bread recently, thanks in large part to this great book:
I've been aware for a long time that there are so many comedians who are agressivly against the Church. Now I agree that the church can often deserve what it gets - a result of out of touch, boring, uninspiring services in cold hard pews. But not to the extend which so many comedians (and many of my favourit) take it. They seem so vehermently against the church and all it stands for, against any form of faith and any of the faithful. Perhaps it's just a way to get cheap laughs, but I really feel that the comedy world is crying out for some good examples of what real loving faith can be like.
It's lent. Yesterday Su and I had pancakes for dinner, simply pancakes. Fantastic. Admittedly some with mushrooms and wilted spinach, but mostly with syrup and lemon - nothing better.
I've been thinking of what to give up for Lent. I don't usually give up anything, or else say 'meat' which is really cheating. But for some reason the idea was sticking in my head this time. Not able to decide on anything in paricular (partly for fear of it being too difficult), I've sort of half decided to do the opposite. Instead of giving up something I'm going to do more of something. That somthing is communitcation, and partly by getting off my bottom in the evening and ... OK I'm still on my bottom as I type, but my bottom is facing away from the screen ... OK, so I'm not facing the TV screen, but rather my laptop (sexy MacbookAir). It's hard in this day and age to escape the glow of some monitor or other. Anyway, I'm hoping to make time this lent to blog, to give myself time to reflect and hopefully space to grow a little, as I don't think I've done much spiritual development of late (nor web development).
I'm not anti American and I know they are not all like this, but really is there another country which manages to generate the extreme idiotic "faithful" such as the Westboro Baptist Church which honestly believe that all homosexuals are evil and Family Radio that yesterday was going to be the end of the world. Really America, I know there are lovely people in your country, and I respect the generally higher level of faithfulness that you present to the world. But for a country which seems out to wage war on religious extreamism don't you think there are a few of them a little closer to home that you need to clean up before you try and cleanse the rest of the world of these madmen? (And ironic given the climate of 'free speach' that you promote within your borders but detest from those outside with different skin colours or with beards).
Screen shot of the www.familyradio.com home page this morning
How To Love Perfect Christians / The Case Against Perfect Christians
I wish I knew as I am at a serious loss as to how to go about loving those individuals and couples I'm sure you know who have their perfect lives and are just so wonderful. They never have problems, they certainly never show any weakness - gosh, Jesus was never weak so why should they be?
I naturally want to hate these people. Really. I am a Christian, but I tell you, these people are not.
Actually of course (unfortunately) they are, they are Christians just as much as I am (sure they might think they are more Christian). In their minds they really honestly believe that being perfect is to be Christian. And indeed churches preach this, that we are all to seek perfection just as Jesus was perfect. Sadly the Bible also 'commands' this : Matthew 5:48 "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Bugger. It does indeed say that. Arse.
OK, so be perfect. That's a pretty tall order. So am I saying that because perfection is such a damn high target we should just not bother? Well, almost yes, I think that is my logical honest response to this calling. Yes God is perfect, and striving for perfection is good, but we most certainly are not there yet, nor will ever be. Anyone exhuming perfection is lying. If they really think they are perfect then they are basically claiming to be God. This is most certainly not good.
TO BE CONTINUED...
What did I want to write about Christian music? I sadly can't remember, but clearly back in May when I first vaguely posted the title of this entry Christian music was clearly on my mind. It's now december and I'm a little foggy of mind, but rather interestingly I'm actually listening to Christian music as I type. What is that Christian music I hear you enquire? Well, read on.
Now is this a moan about the boring nature of music, or a post in praise of it? I don't know, so we'll find out together. But here are just a few thoughts of mine at the present time.
I think I overdosed on Christian music in my early university years, perhaps in the way some might say I overdosed on conservative evangelical faith - HA! despite myself remaining as a heathen amongst the seriously CE body of CU. I grew up in a Methodist church where even "Shine Jesus Shine" was considered just a bit too ultra modern and so kept for very special spiritual occasions. Instead we endured long drawn out, sometimes even excruciating hymns - I remember often turning over the page and being instantly dismayed to see another 7 verses lurking behind. When I came to uni I was board of hymns, so to be suddenly faced with a vibrant young body singing passionately and loudly with arms raised and a band leading was a revelation. To be fair at first I was just a tad intimidated and shrank away from this, but I braved it out and after the first year or so got into the swing of things and would raise my arms with the rest of them. Well not quite, but at least somtimes I'd allow a little lift when feeling moved. I gradually began to filter myself to the back of the lecture theatre where I felt a little freer to sing loudly and sometimes dance a little. But what I really found was that I liked the singing and I liked singing loud. Some might say that what I found out was that I was, deep down, still a Methodist.
After my undergrad I slipped out of CU and into SCM. I still enjoyed singing in Church on sundays, especially the Highfield evening service, but I was increasingly aware that a number of the jazzy pop-culture songs were theologically weak and occasionally desolate. "Jesus is lord, yes lord yes lord Jesus is lord." repeat x20. That sort of thing. At the same time I became aware that I really liked some of the old hymns and actually missed singing them. Not all of them of course - I've not gone all rose=tinted doo-lally, some old hymns are bloody awful, but quite a number of them are infact rather excellent (I shan't name names, but one of those Wesley's was pretty good). But try as I might, is seems that the traditional churches where the hymns exist also tend to murder them with horrific dower dull tune and distinct lack of joy. Whereas those ultra moderns have joy a plenty but seem to frequently lack any substance.
So where does that leave me? Well it currently leaves me out of church but missing singing. Over Christmas I joined a carol service and of course church on Christmas day and enjoyed the singing, though I felt out of practice. Singing isn't what I miss most about church, but it is a really important factor for me.
I also wanted to mention listening to Christian music. This was never part of my upbringing except at church. Whereas at CU I met people who seemed to only know Christian music and nothing else - perhaps were allowed to listen to nothing else. I started listening to it and liked it. It felt sort of spiritual and I enjoyed that. But again, gradually over the years that has lestened. There is something about listeing to Christian worship music on record that I find uncomfortable. I find it uncomfortable in pretty much exactly the same way I find listening to jazz on CD uncomfortable - not being there when the music was made makes it seem empty, fake even. That moment of worship has passed now and is no longer and each time you listen to the same track its the same track, the same 'spirit', as if it gets diluted each time (ignoring the fact that God is without time - but maybe no, perhaps that's it - God is without time so he's already back there enjoying it in the now, whereas here I am now not in that now so not with God in that moment).
Spiritual music still has it's place with me. Like I mentioned at the top of this, I was listening to Christian music as I wrote. I was on a train to Coventry and had on my ipod the Iona Community's "Behold the lamb of God" on repeat. It made for quite a powerful repetitive chant. Why do I find this emotive, but listening to Cathy Burton passionately extoll her emotion strangely lacking? Do I not believe their passion? Perhaps. I certainly have a discomfort with Christians being too bloody happy all the bloody time. But I think more the problem is that I get the sense that they are trying too hard to show how very close to God they are while they sing and play musics with every fibre of their being resonating with the heavenly. I just don't believe it's possible all the time - and so every time I hear the same track it's exactly the same 110% passion and I begin to doubt it. Whereas with older spiritual music - chanting, even hymns - it's not possible to 100% the emotion, so there is always room for more and, more crucially, there is room for me. If I'm listening to someone singing with at 110% then what need is there for anyone else? But when it's lower, it leaves open the opportunity for others to join, to slip in the back, and add their small 1%. They can feel part of it, a contributor rather than an observer.
And I think I might have accidentally been talking about churches as a whole. Turn up at a church which is in the throws of sexual bliss with the Beloved and there is no part for you. But turn up at a church where they don't ace it every time and you'll be welcomed to join, you can play your part. This is not always the case of course, sometimes lively vibrant churches are awesomely welcoming, and likewise smaller churches can be drab and feel nearly dead. But I've definitely experienced a complacency in lively churches that think "as long as they see how much we love Jesus everyone is bound to join". It's sometimes just not the case.
Science and Faith
This article originaly began life in November 2008, but I haven't really got round to it untill now, nearly two years later. I'm only getting back to it now as I was a recent Horizon entitled, controvertially, The End of God?: A Horizon Guide to Science and Religion. It was a strange sort of round up of all the Horizons over the past forty years which have covered the battle between of Science and God. Sadly, in summary, I would have to say that the episode (like so many in the Horizon series) was pants. I'm sorry Dr Thomas Dixon, but the arguments you set out in order to prove that Science has beaten God into the corner were flimsy and unfounded. Your evidence was unscientific and relied of scientific hearsay, which is ironc considering the subject matter.
The worst gaff that caught my attention was in talking about the multiple universe theory to account for the unlikely fact that the universe actually exists. After explaining the utter improbability of it all - a tiny bit more or less gravity and everything doesn't come out the same - he goes on to 'prove' that science yet again has the answer in the multiple universe theory, and what's more there is even one scientist who supports this theory. Umm, of course. One vs everyone else, occam's razor* would definitely suggest we should go with that individual.
I was ammused also that it was with great surprise he revealed that the brains of Catholic nuns in the West react similarly during prayer as budist monks brains do in the East. Almost as if the brains of religious people the world over work in the same way. My God! What a revalation! To say that human brains from different parts of the world react similarly so similar actions is quite remarkable. Quick, someone write a paper for Nature. Yes of course they will react the same as we are all human - that's the giveaway. I bet you if you slap a Mongolain heardsman over the head with a hadock his brain will say 'ouch' in a remarkably similar way to the brain of a Chilian miner - even though they're stuck underground!
But what really annoyed me, and I'll try not to go on (for one thing it's late and for another I intend to go on again at a later date anyway) is just the general assumption that all believers are the same. "Christians" all believe that going to Lourdes will heal you and that creation should be science fact, that all Christians experience regular divine communication and sensual experiences of God, and try and explain God in terms of gaps in Science. No. I don't, and most respectable Christian worth their salt won't. Sure you could interview some genuine but naive fresher from CU and they'll no doubt spurt forth the rubbish you're looking for (this is Richard Dawkins trick), but they are also the same folks who think that Methodists are of the devil - they are not really credible sources.
For me 'science' is what, 'religion' is why. They don't interfere with each other, they are in different realms answering different questions about different topics. They are not competing for supremisy as Dr Thomas insinuates. Science (which doesn't exist by the way, scientists exist, and scientists do do science, but 'Science' doesn't, please stop refering to it thus: 'Science' tells us that....) is out to tell me what the world is made of, how it was formed, what might happen in the future, how does the brain work. Whereas faith is here to give meaning beyond the phycial by which I mean stuff you can't touch - questions about why we love, why someone risks their life for another, why we bother to exist, why do good. The Bible is not a scientific textbook (stop interviewing the people who think it is), Jesus did not come to explain about how molecules work, faith is belief in a greater meaning to life, a reason for life (to live and do good in my opinion).
And my final point is a complaint to all those Christians who are out to fight science - please stop it. For one thing it's a stupid fight which has literally no point, but more importantly Jesus came to tell use to love each other and to love our enemies - if you hate scientits then please get on and love them**. Or do as I have and just be a scientist and a Christian and get over it, they are not mutually exclusive, they never have been (science developed as a search for God) and never will be. Life is both magical and good - science and faith.
* thanks to my brother for pointing out my sadly non-ironic mistake ** of course by this revelation I also need to say all this rant in love. I love you Dr Dixon!