Hymn of the day

by Richard on March 23, 2014

All creatures of our God and King
Lift up your voice and with us sing,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thou burning sun with golden beam,
Thou silver moon with softer gleam!

O praise Him! O praise Him!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Thou rushing wind that art so strong
Ye clouds that sail in Heaven along,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Thou rising moon, in praise rejoice,
Ye lights of evening, find a voice!

Thou flowing water, pure and clear,
Make music for thy Lord to hear,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Thou fire so masterful and bright,
That givest man both warmth and light.

Dear mother earth, who day by day
Unfoldest blessings on our way,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
The flowers and fruits that in thee grow,
Let them His glory also show.

And all ye men of tender heart,
Forgiving others, take your part,
O sing ye! Alleluia!
Ye who long pain and sorrow bear,
Praise God and on Him cast your care!

And thou most kind and gentle Death,
Waiting to hush our latest breath,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Thou leadest home the child of God,
And Christ our Lord the way hath trod.

Let all things their Creator bless,
And worship Him in humbleness,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son,
And praise the Spirit, Three in One!

William Henry Draper, based on Francis of Assisi


Here’s Gary Novak in Pravda, that organ famous for its commitment to the plain, unvarnished truth

There is nothing but modeling in global warming analysis, the simple reason being that the complexities and randomness of the atmosphere are totally out of reach of the science that can be applied. Only modeling is obscure enough to evade accountability to outsiders and provide any desired result without criticism.

The problem is, such a standard is not science. Science has a purpose, which is to put an end to error and falsehood through verifiable procedures. Muddled procedures only promote the charlatanism which science attempts to correct.

If you’re tempted to think this is credible and aren’t discouraged by the news source that reports it, have a quick look at some of this fellow’s other claims. Apparenty, quantum mechanics is bunkum, Albert Einstein was an incompetent idiot, there’s no such thing as fossil fuels and hydrogen bombs are a myth.

OK, so my headline was an exaggeration. But you get an idea of what sort of territory denialism takes you into. I recommend taking a tinfoil hat.


Big Bucks stolen from Joel Osteen

by Richard on March 17, 2014

I’m very tempted to make a comment about the theft of $600 000 from Joel Osteen’s Cornerstone Church. One weekend’s offerings, apparently.

But on balance, I’d better keep my mouth shut.


“Born again?” - a sermon for Lent 2

by Kim on March 16, 2014

Raise your hand if you’re a Christian… Now raise your hand if you’re “born again”… Just as I thought: a disparity. Which disappoints me hugely, but doesn’t surprise me. Instead of being a term that all Christians can and should own, “born again” has become a phrase that some Christians claim for themselves – and then deploy in very un-Christian ways against their sisters and brothers in Christ.

In the US, you get this phenomenon at its worst, because it’s associated with Christians who have an ultra-conservative cultural and political agenda. You’ve probably heard of the American Religious Right. But as a wag has perceptively put it, this bloc is neither – it is bad religion and it’s hardly ever right. Indeed with its virtual identification of being an American with being a Christian – the US as “God’s own country” – it is downright idolatrous. Fortunately, the UK has been spared this kind of distorted faith. Unfortunately, we have not been spared the abuse of the term “born again”.

Above all – yes – the way the term is used by some Christians to make themselves feel more Christian and others feel less Christian or not Christian at all. Apparently it is not sufficient to say you that you have been baptised and believe; that you pray and seek to follow Jesus; that you are a committed member of the church and involved in its activities. No, all that is not enough. No, to be a “real” Christian, you’ve got to have a special conversion experience, usually dramatic and often dateable, which you can put in the form of a “testimony” and talk about publicly, punctuated with the requisite biblical phraseology. Otherwise you’re suspect.

And then there is this: because the focus is on personal experience, everything else that is important about Christian faith gets marginalised. Evangelism is largely reduced to inducing the “born-again” experience in other people, and then getting them to join so-called “Bible-believing” churches, while faith basically becomes a “fire insurance” policy, a get-out-of-hell-free card. And because the emphasis is on personal salvation, there inevitably follows a minimising of action for justice and peace, as well as a commitment to ecumenism, as intrinsic to mission.

The huge irony is that all this is quite unbiblical, for justice for the poor, peace on earth, and a passion for the unity of God’s people – these are fundamental biblical themes. Justice is the central message of all the great prophets – Amos, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah. And the theme of the ministry of Jesus is – what? The kingdom of God – the reign of God, the realm of God – which is a corporate concept and refers to the establishment of shalom, not just in souls but in bodies, not just for individuals but for the world, and not for some future ethereal realm but for the here and now. Or do we need reminding of the manifesto of Jesus, proclaimed in his inaugural sermon in Nazareth, his “mission statement” if you like:

God’s Spirit is upon me:
God has chosen me to preach the message of good news to the poor;
to announce pardon to prisoners and the recovery of sight to the blind;
to liberate the crushed and oppressed;
to announce, “Now is the time of God’s action!”

And St. Paul, following Jesus’ prayer “that they may be one” – again and again the apostle pleads passionately for unity in and between early Christian communities.

That is what mission is about: not about me, me, me, saving my butt and getting folk past the Pearly Gates, but about witnessing to the fact that in Jesus Christ God is reconfiguring the whole universe, inviting people to join in his cosmic project of reconciliation, and encouraging churches to demonstrate God’s peace by living together in unity. John’s experience of coming to faith, Jane’s experience of coming to faith, my experience of coming to faith – these are no doubt different. But this vision of the one church and the new creation – that is what binds us to Christ and moves us to obedience.

So to be “born again” – well, look at the famous text…

First, note how Jesus begins by referring to “seeing the kingdom of God”. So right from the get-go we’re not talking about personal salvation and getting to heaven, we’re talking about the new world that is God’s work in progress.

Second, Jesus tells Nicodemus that “no one can see the kingdom of God without” (John 3:3) – without what, exactly? In the Greek of the text, “without being born anothen”. What does anothen actually mean? Nicodemus obviously takes the word to mean “again” – hence his puzzlement at the idea of entering the womb twice. And rightly so – he’s got the wrong end of the semantic stick! Much better to take anothen to mean “from above”, which is, in fact, overwhelmingly its usual meaning. Then what Jesus is telling Nicodemus links perfectly with what John tells us in chapter 1, where we read that Jesus, the incarnate Word, gives to all those who believe in him the “power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man but” – of what? – “of the will of God” (John 1:12-13), the God who, in John’s heaven-and-earth, up-and-down theological cosmology, is “above”. And then what Jesus tells Nicodemus also links perfectly with what John tells us at the end of chapter 3, where in a single verse (31), he refers to Jesus himself as “the one who comes from heaven” (v. 31c) and “the one who comes from anothen” (v. 31a), which clearly means not “again” but “above”. Thus not “born again” but “born from above” turns out to be by far the better translation of anothen – as, in fact, many Bibles in English now acknowledge.

But look, I’m not the word police! By all means let us speak about being “born again”. It’s actually a quite fantastic image, which vividly speaks to the point that Jesus is making to Nicodemus, namely that being a Christian involves a transformation. To speak of being “born again” is not a problem – unless you make it a problem by reducing its meaning to a specific experience that all Christians must have or they are not “proper” Christians. Being “born again”, or “anew” or “from above” – they are all powerful metaphors of faith, but people come to faith in all kinds of different ways, through all sorts of different experiences. The how of faith is not important, only the that of faith is crucial, a faith that changes people for sure, but a faith that finally demonstrates its authenticity not in private experiences but in public actions. Crying “Lordy, Lordy!” isn’t the test of faith – so Jesus concludes the Sermon on the Mount – but doing the will of my Father (Matthew 7:21) – that is the crux of being a Christian. As St. Francis told his followers: “Spread the Good News. Use words if you have to.”

It’s rather like weddings and marriages. Maybe you’ve had an amazing wedding, right out of Hello magazine; maybe it was a simple affair, the registrar and a few friends. No matter: both couples are wed, the one no more or less than the other. The real question is: however elaborate the wedding, however personalised the vows, what will you make of the marriage?

So the next time anyone asks you if you’re born again, don’t be intimidated; rather, boldly, proudly, and simply affirm, “Of course! I’m a follower of Jesus! Are you?”

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Hymn of the day

by Richard on March 16, 2014

O GOD, what offering shall I give
To thee, the Lord of earth and skies?
My spirit, soul, and flesh receive,
A holy, living sacrifice;
Small as it is, ’tis all my store;
More shouldst thou have, if I had more.

Now then, my God, thou hast my soul,
No longer mine, but thine I am;
Guard thou thine own, possess it whole,
Cheer it with hope, with love inflame;
Thou hast my spirit, there display
Thy glory to the perfect day.

Thou hast my flesh, thy hallowed shrine,
Devoted solely to thy will;
Here let thy light for ever shine,
This house still let thy presence fill;
O Source of life, live, dwell, and move
In me, till all my life be love!

O never in these veils of shame,
Sad fruits of sin, my glorying be!
Clothe with salvation, through thy name,
My soul, and let me put on thee!
Be living faith my costly dress,
And my best robe thy righteousness.

Send down thy likeness from above,
And let this my adorning be;
Clothe me with wisdom, patience, love,
With lowliness and purity,
Than gold and pearls more precious far,
And brighter than the morning star.

Lord, arm me with thy Spirit’s might,
Since I am called by thy great name;
In thee let all my thoughts unite,
Of all my works be thou the aim;
Thy love attend me all my days,
And my sole business be thy praise!

Joachim Lange
tr. John Wesley


The Guardian: 8 pronunciation errors that made the English language what it is today

We’ve all been there. I still lapse into mis-CHEE-vous if I’m not concentrating. This week some PR whizzes working for a railway station with an unusual name unveiled the results of a survey into frequently garbled words. The station itself is routinely confused with an endocrine gland about the size of a carrot (you can see why they hired PRs). Researchers also found that 340 of the 1000 surveyed said ex-cetera instead of etcetera, while 260 ordered ex-pressos instead of espressos. Prescription came out as perscription or proscription 20% of the time.

The point is malapropisms and mispronunciations are fairly common. The 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary lists 171,476 words as being in common use. But the average person’s vocabulary is tens of thousands smaller, and the number of words they use every day smaller still. There are bound to be things we’ve read or are vaguely familiar with, but not able to pronounce as we are supposed to.

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Richard Branson, that well-known anti-business, pale pink, hair-shirted communist, has told climate change deniers: “Get out of the way”

Conservative think tank the National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR) - Apple shareholders - criticised Cook for pursuing sustainability programs, questioned the impact of combating climate change on the bottom line, and demanded return on investment on all environmental initiatives.

Tim took a crucial stand: he told shareholders who oppose Apple’s commitment to sustainability to “get out of the stock”.

He also commented on how doing business sustainably can actually improve the bottom line. This is something we strongly believe in at The B Team, which is working hard to encourage better ways of doing business for the wellbeing of people and the planet. We wholeheartedly support him. …

More businesses should be following Apple’s stance in encouraging more investment in sustainability. While Tim told sustainability sceptics to “get out of our stock”, I would urge climate change deniers to get out of our way.


Dare to sit with suffering

by Richard on March 10, 2014

A Lenten thought from sojo.net

The season of Lent calls us to give up something as a way of making room for Christ to enter our lives. As we look to the cross, we are asked to remember suffering, to sit with it, to experience it, to not ignore it, as we are so prone to do. This year as you remember the suffering of Christ, remember also the suffering of creation. As you draw near to the cross, sit with stories from Syria, or from the Ukraine. Listen to stories of economic refugees in the U.S. who have lost their houses due to foreclosure or who work minimum wage jobs but still cannot afford to feed their families.

Whatever you do, don’t turn away. Dare yourself to sit with suffering. Look for God there. God is always close to broken bodies and bruised dreams. And as you sit with this suffering, ask yourself what you might do to dig up the roots of injustice and rebuild the kin-dom of God in our midst. For this is the call of the cross. This is the gift of God with us.


Sound of Silence

by Richard on March 10, 2014


Hymn of the day

by Richard on March 9, 2014

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessèd peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills, in this world and the next!

All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given;
The Son and Him Who reigns with Them in highest Heaven;
The one eternal God, whom earth and Heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.

Martin Rinkart


Lent Photos

by Richard on March 8, 2014

If you’re looking for a creative challenge this Lent, Rev Mark invites you to join a daily photo challenge for Lent 2014. Tweet or post your pics to Instagram with the hashtag #Lentphotos (what else?). There’s a daily list of themes — I’m sure it’s OK to join part way through.


Racism in action

by Richard on March 7, 2014

Two fellows, one black one white, try to break in to a car. Let’s see if they get treated the same way…

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Ben Myers has been having a week focused on the parables of Jesus. The series includes a number of sermons by one Kim Fabricius. I draw your particular attention in particular to The Parable of the Sower

What is our condition? It is not good: rocky soil, weeds, pests. The church is in decline. What should be our response? Hard work? Well, sure, work is good. But things can only get better? No, things are looking to get a lot worse. But here’s a quaint idea: God! In the URC – and I suspect in the Methodist Church too – there are those who think that only a cunning plan will save us: better management and more assessments; a new programme with a catchy advertising campaign; cutting-edge entrepreneurialism; state-of-the-art technology; and so on. And some of these ideas may indeed be worth trying. But none of them is going to save the church. And to think otherwise is not only faithless, it is quite idolatrous, trusting that the deities of effort, or ideas, or techniques will kick-start mission – by which is usually meant getting more people in the pews and on the books.

Me… I actually think… if you take my meaning… that we need fewer Christians and more disciples. Followers of the Jesus who says that following him will not make you balanced, liked, successful, or safe, no, it will put you on a collision course with the world and cause you a lot of trouble and grief. Followers of the Jesus who says you can’t worship both me and Mammon (otherwise known as the Market), can’t worship both me and Venus (otherwise known as Health and Beauty), can’t worship both me and Mars (otherwise known as the War on Terror).

Frankly, at the moment, I think the soil of the church is too culturally contaminated to grow anything much good at all. But I also think that “a church that is shrinking in membership may actually be a church in which the soil of the gospel is being prepared in which deeper roots are possible”


Rowan Williams: Lent reflection

by Richard on March 6, 2014

This video is a few years old, but Rowan Williams is always worth attending to.


From The Guardian

The International Monetary Fund has backed economists who argue that inequality is a drag on growth in a discussion paper that has also dismissed rightwing theories that efforts to redistribute incomes are self-defeating.

The Washington-based organisation, which advises governments on sustainable growth, said countries with high levels of inequality suffered lower growth than nations that distributed incomes more evenly.

Backing analysis by the Keynesian economist and Nobel prizewinner Joseph Stiglitz, it warned that inequality can also make growth more volatile and create the unstable conditions for a sudden slowdown in GDP growth.

And in what is likely to be viewed as its most controversial conclusion, the IMF said analysis of various efforts to redistribute incomes showed they had a neutral effect on GDP growth. This last point is expected to dismay rightwing politicians who argue that overcoming inequality robs the rich of incentives to invest and the poor of incentives to work and is counter-productive.


George Herbert: Sinnes round

by Richard on March 6, 2014

Sorrie I am, my God, sorrie I am,
That my offences course it in a ring.
My thoughts are working like a busie flame,
Untill their cockatrice they hatch and bring;
And when they once have perfected their draughts,
My words take fire from my inflamed thoughts.

My words take fire from my inflamed thoughts,
Which spit it forth like the Sicilian Hill.
They vent the wares, and passe them with their faults,
And by their breathing ventilate the ill.
But words suffice not, where are lewd intentions:
My hands do joyn to finish the inventions.

My hands do joyn to finish the inventions:
And so my sinnes ascend three stories high,
As Babel grew, before there were dissensions.
Yet ill deeds loyter not: for they supplie
New thoughts of sinning: wherefore, to my shame,
Sorrie I am, my God, sorrie I am.


More Ash Wednesday reflections

by Richard on March 5, 2014

Pete Brazier offers some helpful thoughts

In the lectionary reading for Ash Wednesday,[1] from Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 we hear about the need for penitence, the need to return to God with weeping and mourning - this is at the heart of what Ash Wednesday is about. And in Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 we hear about how penitent people ought to act in the world, acts of religion that are out of the public eye, giving that is not announced, humble prayer, fasting without seeking attention or sympathy and the desire to store up heavenly wealth, not earthly possessions. That extract from the sermon on the mount offers us perhaps a picture of the finished product, the holy people we seek to become. But there is a stage in between Joel and Matthew, there is a time between our repentance and our stepping out into the world again as new creations. The reading from Matthew’s gospel is suggesting that we don’t make a fuss, we don’t get wrapped up in religious pomp and circumstance, but rather we get on with doing the work of the lord, we get on with the work of being God’s people. But there are some things we need to attend to before we can be those people. The way we group these two readings together in the lectionary for this service is very protestant, it’s very modern and western. We repent, we are forgiven, we get up and get on with the work. But in between there are things that we are called to do.

Read the rest…


Why English majors make bad fundamentalists

by Richard on March 5, 2014

Morgan Guyton: Why English majors make lousy fundamentalists. Good stuff when you get past the Myers-Briggs introduction. Here’s a flavour:

To an English major, what makes a piece of writing rich and poetic are the metaphors it employs. Metaphors are scary things to fundamentalists because they seem like a ploy to undermine the Bible’s authority. To make Genesis 1 literal isn’t just a problem for me because of its contradiction of modern science. It’s a problem because there are so many cool things that the firmament, the waters above, and waters below could stand for metaphorically if they don’t have to be literal scientific facts (take a look at what Augustine does with them in his books 11-13 of his Confessions). When the Bible is “nothing but the facts,” then it’s been robbed of a critically important layer of its beauty. The early church fathers had a very different interpretation of 2 Timothy 3:16 than we do today. When they read that “all scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching,” they took that to mean that every detail was pregnant with metaphorical content; nothing was mere historical backdrop. For example, Augustine interpreted the six jars of water that Jesus turned into wine in John 2:6 as the six ages of the world.

4) We make analogies

This overlaps somewhat with #3. When you’re an English major, you’re always making analogies between different books that you’ve read. For instance, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov is about the three brothers Dmitri, Ivan, and Alyosha, while Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina likewise includes three brothers Konstantin, Nicolai, and Sergius. So every time I read a story about three siblings, I always have these two great Russian novels in the back of my mind. In reading the Bible, I instinctively look for elements that might be analogies. In the New Testament, there are three major controversies that become important analogies for me in Biblical interpretation: Jesus’ Sabbath healing, the circumcision of the Gentiles, and eating ceremonially unclean foods. For fundamentalist Bible readers, these controversies are isolated incidents that have no bearing on how the church should handle analogous problems today. But an English major like me is going to draw an analogy between how these three issues were handled by Jesus and Paul and how the church should handle issues today including today’s controversy of all controversies, which I’m sure I don’t have to name.


Lenten leanings

by Richard on March 5, 2014

My friend Ivan Corbin has a new blog. His most recent post, Fat Tuesday and Lenten Leanings, invites us to journey through Lent with him. Wouldn’t miss it!


‘Dust thou art…’

by Richard on March 5, 2014

Posted in memory of Angela Shier Jones, from her blog The Kneeler.

God’s Dust
by Angela Shier Jones

Good morning God,
I cant help feeling that the traditional Ash Wednesday refrain ought to be more poignant this year - ‘Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return’, but it isn’t. No matter how hard I try to be dutifully penitent and conscious of my mortal existence - the whole idea of Ash Wednesday simply provokes the same abhorrence it always has at the way in which we humans have taken what you have called Good and twisted it in a vain attempt to make it small, dirty and less than it is.

Yes.. I remember that I am dust - and I celebrate the distinction. For when you created the heavens and the earth you spoke everything - except humanity into existence. Humanity was not spoken into being out of nothing, but was carefully, deliberately formed by you from what you had already made, examined and called GOOD. Humanity alone was held in your hands and given the kiss of life from you.. remember you are dust - Alleluia!

And to dust you will return.. Amen!
To know that I will return to your hands, to my most divinely created form, is, for me, still further cause for delight - especially in the light of the good news that you love all that you have made, that you have made nothing in vain and that life, like your love, is everlasting.

You see, its no good. I just cannot bring myself to buy into the human priestly cult of sin and death which has all but replaced the gospel you gave us of love and life.
Yes, humans sin - but we are also so much more than the sum of our sins, for YOU made us and breathed YOUR life into us. Yes, human bodies die - but we are so much more than the three-score years and ten (or less!) that we wear these mortal robes and which some mistakenly think define us. In Christ we live forever for your breath cannot be taken from us, we are as YOU have made us.

And the good news continues in that even before we were sinners, even before we who live now were formed in your image, you chose to give us life and to set us free (if we wish it) from all that diminishes us and makes us less than you desire us to be. You know our nature better than we, and you choose life for us. In Christ you proved beyond doubt or dispute that no matter what we think sin can do, no matter how powerful we make it, it cannot destroy the life you give; we can murder it, even bury it, but even then you can still resurrect it. Sin is just so much smaller than salvation - always was.

Which doesn’t mean that I enter Lent without regret, or without the need to repent - it just means that I prefer to perform my penance in the way that you suggested (according to Matthew 6) - in private.

So please, help me God to walk with you this Lent without sackcloth and ashes, not demeaning or dumbing down the journey that Christ took to the Cross, but nonetheless not losing sight of the joyous anticipation of the final victory the world so desperately needs over the cult of sin and death.