Monthly Archives: April 2009

Saying sorry…should we do it more often

sorry1I read yesterday that the Pope had apologised to native Canadians who were physically and sexuallyabused at church-run boarding schools they were forced to attend and it got me thinking. What if all denominations decided to hold a “we’re sorry” service once a year? This could  provide an opportunity to formally and symbolically apologise to anyone who has been damaged in any way by the church; it may be even something that the church could take on the road. After all, we have an annual  Back to Church Sunday event here in the UK where the focus is to invite folks back to something they have loved but just grown out of the habit of attending. What about the scores of people who don’t go to church because of some desperately bad experience they have had, and for which individual ministers or the church corporate has still not apologised? I realise that sorry is often not enough, but it is a start and probably the place Jesus would like to see us begin. 

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Religion- it’s a game of two halves (and no goals)

Today’s Times newspaper carried a wonderful write up of the inter-faith football (or soccer if you prefer) match between Christian vicars and Imams which fittingly ended in a scoreless drawn. HRH The Prince of Wales was on hand to present the trophy to both team captains after he had witnesses what he described as “quite a match” in a stadium in the Turkish district of Berlin. the idea of pitting Christians against Muslims was tried out in a charity match in Leicester in 2005 and was brought to Berlin by the local Anglican chaplain, the Rev Christopher Jage-Bowler. In the end the Christians were saved from  defeat by their 51 year-old goalkeeper- at least he had more claim than Maradona as the hand of God.

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Values buried under bullshit?

Candidates ReligionIt’s one hundred days today since January 20th when Barack Obama was inaugurated as the world’s most powerful man-the President of the United States of America. Millions of words will be written today assessing how well he has done at this most inconsequential of milestones after just three  months. He seems to have been a busy man ,although is still short of delivering his promises in relation to troop withdrawals,widening opportunity and social mobility for millions of Americans. What have we come to know of President Obama in this time? On BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day, the Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, shares with us something of how Obama’s faith was formed as the young Chicago  community organiser sat in Trinity Church. At that time Obama was surrounded by ordinary people rather than sharp suited advisers and media handlers. he worked out his theology amongst a congregation of aspirational African-Americans as a “reluctant sceptic”. Obama writes about that time: “the churches are the only game in town…That’s where the people are, and that’s where the values are, even if they are buried under a lot of bullshit.”

In his Thought for the Day broadcast, Bishop James, tells of a moving account of Obama breaking down in church in tears as he glimpsed something of the power of God at work in the lives of a people he identified with and was working to help. No cameras, no journalists, no political advisers- just Obama, God and the young man who handed him a tissue to stem the flow of tears…and definitely no bullshit.  As for the Presidency so far, keep sniffing and judge for yourself.

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Being willing to start again

baby_walkingHave you even had days of doubt and disillusionment with yourself and others when you’ve wondered what it really means to be considered a Christian- a true Christian that is? Have you ever wondered how relevant the creed or articles of faith are in a post-modern world, and why a belief  in unbelief seems to be taking root in our society? You maybe have looked around a bit more closely in church and though, “Lord, really is this it, is that what you have for me to do and be? “You are not alone and neither am I and I thank God for thinkers like Brian McLarenwho have the gift of opening the door on a better relationship with God. McLaren wrote; “The kind of people who would come to faith along the path I was trying to clear for them would not end up just like the people waiting for them in church. They would be like a bunch of wild-eyed artists and excitable children and rugby players walking into a room full of buttoned-down accountants and engineers…a great learning experience for all concerned but not the makings of a fun party.”

In his first book The Church on the other sideMcLaren wrote:

“You see, if we have a new world, we will need a new church. We won’t need a new religion per se, but a new framework for our theology. Not a new Spirit, but a new spirituality. Not a new Christ, but a new Cristian. Not a new denomination, but a new kind of church in every denomination…I began to doubt that any of us Christians are actually Christians.I relate this experience simply to illustrate the importance of our challenge:to reopen the question of what makes a good Christian…if need be, would we be willing to confess that we are hardly Christians at all and that we need to become as little children and start again?”

The faltering steps of a new child are always the most exciting yet full of risk and apprehension yet  no fear. If you’re up for it so am I and let’s hold each other’s hand along the way.

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Believing everything we read

third-wayMay’s  Third Way magazine carries a discussion of the integrity of biblical texts between Justin Brierley, Peter Williams and Bart Ehrman author of Misquoting Jesus.Ehrman’s claim is that we no longer have all the original words of the New Testament documents so how can they be authoritative. Misquoting Jesus,Ehrman claims,  isn’t questioning whether God is true ,but whether scripture can give us access to the truth of God when we are in a palce where we don’t really know what the New Testament books originally said. I have blogged before about the bible see and and the accuracy and reliability of the texts is a subject of much impassioned debate if you thing the scriptures are completely inerrant and everything hangs on their accuracy. All of the Bible is inspired (2 Tim3:16), but that is not the same as saying that all of the bible is to be taken literally. We need to listen to scholars and commentators to grapple with a better understanding as best we can which parts are literal and which are metaphorical or figurative truth. We need to teach people in our churches more about the origin of the bible and how to interpret its various genres. Too much is at stake not to. As Dan Kimball puts it; “If we believe that all of the Bible is inspired, then our job is to study the Scriptures with great prayer and humility and to distinguish between the literal and parables, metaphors, hyperbole and other figures of speech.”

On Saturday two Jehovah’s Witnesses who knocked on my door ranting about lack of morality in the church and they began to use the Bible as a weapon for beating, bashing ans shooting down people. By the time they had left we prayed, and I hope I had introduced them to a Bible that provided light and guidance for walking in freedom- leaving the judgemental stuff for God later. They went away smiling and I went back in the house without a copy of The Watchtower-  Maybe they’ll be back next week!

It is important to accept that the Holy Spirit can use the Bible to draw people to God but it is not the only source of dividne inspiration- he uses people and particularly what we say and do to reflect Jesus to others. Ehrman writes that; “We have more than 5,000 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, between which there are hundreds of thousands of differences…there are more differences in these manuscripts than there are words in the New testament!”.  The foundation for Scripture is not scholarly agreement, and as Peter Williams put it in Third Way; “Scripture could be certain without humans being certain about it. The important thing…is not what humans think but what God thinks. My personal level of certainty about something is not the foundation for a Christian doctrine of scripture.”

He may be right, all I know is that if there are 5,000 contested words in the New testament then God has more than 5,000 ways of showing us that he loves us. Even if someone has changed (deliberately or by accident of translation)  words or phrases found in the scriptures down the years it hasn’t lessened their impact to change lives and to reflect something of God’s love and the teachings of Christ.

 For more on Third Way see

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Rules will never love you

In WM Paul Young’s best selling book The Shack  Sarayu is advising Mack about  the rules in Scripture. The conversation goes like this:

“The Bible doesn’t teach you to follow rules. It is a picture of Jesus. While words may tell you what God is like and even what he may want from you, you cannot do any of it on your own. Life and living is in him and in no other. My goodness, you didn’t think you could live the righteousness of God on your own, did you….It’s true that relationships are a whole lot messier than rules, but rules will never give you the answers to the deep questions of the heart and they will never love you….Religion is about having the right answers, and some of their answers are right. But I am about the process that takes you to the living answer and once you get to him, he will change you from the inside.”

MacKenzie’s is a journey of change and transformation through grief and then love and it is on this journey that we constantly need to be reminded of the one who is with us and can guide us if we let him- not through rules but through love. As Oswald Chambers said; ” faith never knows where it is being led, but it knows and loves the one who is leading.”

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Maybe today…buy it today

maybetodaycoverloWhen I began this blog one of the first people to link to it was Tony Miles the media chaplain and broadcaster based at Methodist Central Hall in central London. Earlier this week I got hold of a copy of Tony’s new book Maybe Today which is a collection of 70 days of  reflections which help the reader to unlock the secrets of how to live a more authentically Christlike life. It provides a gentle- and often homorous- daily nudge that encourages us to examine our actions, even the very smallest. It’s pressure free and Tony ,typically for him, choses to live and struggle with his readers whilst also encouraging and inspiring us to hope for more.

The book comes with endorsements from Diane Louise Jordon, Andrew Graystone, Andy Frost, Peter Kerridge and others and it really is a great read from one of the most optimistic and positive Christians I know. Whenever I see Tony he always gives me a lift and makes me smile and I know he had provided invaluable pastoral support and direction for others.  Maybe Today is divided into sections covering themes such as God’s mysterious presence; the pace of life, breaking bad habits and learning to live God’s way and each brief reflection includes a prayer, suggested bible passage and an action for maybe today. Over the next 70 days Maybe today will be my companion and I am looking forward to walking with Tony and discovering more  about myself, God and why Tony remains so cheerful as we walk together. I’ll leave the last word with Diane Louise Jordon from the foreword:

I highly commend Tony and I highly recommend Maybe Today. It reminds me of an advent crown stacked with goodies you want to devour in one go but know you’ll get more benefit from savouring one succulent bit-size a day. So if you’re looking for a regular injection of spiritual nourishment in a practical, engaging and contemporary way then this is the book for you. Oh by the way, just in case I’ve not made myself clear, I really love this book!”

When will I start it- Maybe Today!

Read more of Tony’s musings at

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