Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Peace

At the end of a Christian service, the priest often pronounces a ‘benediction’, a blessing; words like Paul’s in Philippians 4: ‘Be anxious for nothing […] and the peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus’. Soothing words in an age of violence.

But I am moving too fast. Is violence, war, the opposite of peace?

Peace, like many English words, is somewhat vague, or broad, whichever way you want to look at it. Consider, for example, what it isn’t—its opposites. It is the opposite of war, of violence, of mental anxiety and worry, of strained family relationships, of too much noise, of a busy schedule, of a lack of finances when there are bills to pay. It is the opposite of all those life-pressures that unbalance us, that disturb human equilibrium.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Becoming an Anglican, Part 2

This is a continuation from my last blog. Sorry it’s not very bloggish—much too long! But I hope it’s helpful.
I went to an ‘establishment’ secondary school. Every morning before lessons we were required to go to the school chapel and endure the most boring service that could have been invented for a schoolboy. What was known as ‘speech day’—the annual celebration of the school’s achievements—was also a religious occasion: it took place in the Parish Church (where I still remember the organ was a quarter-tone flat). So I equated Anglicanism with death (and being out-of-tune). In contrast, the Baptist church had a thriving youth group and was (and I presume still is) full of life. So I have every sympathy with dissenters and charismatics, especially as the nineteenth century historical context (for the former anyway) against which they were rebelling was arguably a lot worse. In the early nineteenth century, for example, it was generally held that God ordained one’s station in life: it was God’s will that the poor were born poor and should serve the rich. Being a State Church led by the privileged, educated class (one had to subscribe to the Articles of the Church of England in order to graduate from Oxford or Cambridge) it is hardly surprising that dissent flourished. The Anglican Church was seen as a repressive tool of the State (after all, the Book of Common Prayer is very effusive about the monarchy, probably thanks to Henry) and in a typical Sunday service labourers and servants would have to stand in the presence of their elders and betters who could afford to sit comfortably in rented pews.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Becoming an Anglican

Like G. K. Chesterton (as I noted in my blog a few years ago), I feel a little like the intrepid explorer who, with a boat full of supplies and arms, sailed bravely into the unknown in order to discover new lands and riches for the Crown. After battling on the high seas for many a month, he espies land on the horizon. Dragging his boat onto the beach, and armed to the teeth, he intends to plant the British flag on this new territory, but soon discovers the natives already speak English. About an hour later—having realised he has landed on the south coast of England—he is sheepishly enjoying a pint of best bitter in the Ship Inn and, frankly, enjoying being back at home and having a good laugh.
Now my journey is not like Chesterton’s in that he left, and then returned to, the same place—Catholicism. But I do sympathise. But before we go any further, I would like to say that honest journeying (even dishonest journeying) is never wasted. Travels away from ‘home’ always gift the traveller with perspective; he or she may return to the same old haunts, but never as the same person. Travels of any kind—academic, geographic, cultural, or whatever—are, in my view, one of the best antidotes to fundamentalism for they open one’s eyes to the parochialism and short-sightedness of ‘village’ life. For villages, as I have noted elsewhere, thrive on convention and do not suffer travelling fools gladly.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

The ethics of cartography

OK, a slightly pretentious title, but all will become clear…
In 1945, in the aftermath of the second world war, the victorious allies represented by the likes of Harry S. Truman, Clement Attlee, and Joseph Stalin—sat round a table and decided the future of Europe. Various lines were drawn on maps, and the land I now call home found itself behind what became known as the Iron Curtain. Prior to this—perhaps for many centuries—the Czech lands of Moravia and Bohemia were peopled by a mixed population speaking both Czech and German. There was rich intercultural cross-fertilisation and diversity.
But, as always happens when lines are drawn on maps by those who claim power, some people found themselves in the ‘wrong’ place at the wrong time. In Czech Silesia, for example, to the north of Moravia, many German-speakers—despite their families having centuries-old roots in the communities in which they lived—found themselves demonised and deported, often sent ‘back’ to Germany, a land unknown to many. And most troubling of all, Czechoslovakia, despite having fought bravely with Western allies, was betrayed and found itself on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Acid reign

Dealing with corrosive power-structures in a post-truth world

Even the most naive political observer cannot help but notice the rise of populist rhetoric on the world stage. It is not only the speech of self-promoting saviours bent on leading their people away from their oppressive overlords towards new promised lands; it is also the cry of those who feel oppressed. I would like to offer a theological perspective.
One might begin by noting that by just mentioning the word ‘theology’ many readers have probably not got past the first paragraph. Since Kant’s move to locate certainty only in the phenomenological realm—in other words, we can only be sure of things that can be rationally deduced from sensed reality—theology has been treated with a degree of suspicion, and those who practice it are, in the eyes of the ‘enlightened’, generally to be pitied. Theology, after all, suggests that there is a transcendent reality beyond space-time that can nevertheless, in some sense, be evaluated. An idea that some find hard to swallow.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Learning to see again


They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”
He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”
Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t even go into the village.” (Mark 8:22–26)

Sight—correct vision—is Christ’s gift to his children. Since the first words of God —‘let there be light’—God has been working to give his children sight. These words were spoken by Christ at the dawn of time, for John in his gospel insists that ‘through him all things were made’, and furthermore, John also says that when Jesus came into the world, he was light incarnate—‘the true light that gives light to everyone’. In a world of darkness—especially religious darkness—John’s first-hand witness statement declares that Jesus’ primary message was ‘God is light; in him there is no darkness at all’. Welcome news in a religious world that saw God as primarily judge and law-giver. ‘This vision of God as darkness,’ John is saying, ‘is wrong. You are seeing badly: God is light.’
Human vision regularly distorts reality. God gets the blame for all sorts of things, not least the mystery of evil—especially so when so many who claim to be representatives of ‘God’ walk in such evil and darkness. It seems to me that in these dark days we need to pray for the gift of sight, and this passage of Mark is worth exploring for it holds the key to new vision—20/20 vision of reality. When Mark edited his gospel, it seems to me that like John—who included seven acts of Christ in his account, calling them ‘signs’—Mark included this incident for the deeper truth of which it speaks. I would like to consider this.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

The Problem of Worship

Was thinking a bit about worship this morning. Hope these thoughts are helpful! Your (also helpful) comments would be appreciated.

Every so often there appears an article lamenting the state of contemporary worship. One came across my desk last week with the usual complaints about trite songs, too much showmanship, a lack of congregational involvement, keys being too high, and so on. As a worship leader myself who recognises all these things, all such articles do is make us all feel more guilty—participants for not joining in more, leaders for doing a bad job.

To give some perspective: I have led worship at major events in the UK (with a couple of thousand people) as well as for small home groups. Here in the beautiful city of Prague I lead worship in a small church occasionally, and (for twenty years or more) have been teaching on the subject of worship and Christian creativity. I would like to suggest a few thoughts to ponder.
First, that shortcomings in corporate worship are not causal but symptomatic. In other words, high keys and trite lyrics etc. etc. no doubt contribute to the lack of buy-in from the congregation, but if the average church punter wanted to join in, there is nothing really to stop her. I suggest that rather the issue is ‘spiritual’, mental and, above all, cultural.

In some settings, getting people to sing together is like squeezing blood from a stone.  I sometimes lead from the floor, to one side, to ‘get out of the way’; I choose simple songs; I give people space to join in, and so on, but often people still sit there like lemons, somewhat—or so it seems—embarrassed at the whole exercise.