Tuesday, 19 July 2011

One bit of what happened... perhaps

Having asked the question yesterday "Why did Jesus have to die how he died?", I've been digging.

I like digging - it satisfies my insatiable appetite for knowledge. Unfortunately, in a family-tree-esque expansion of subjects, it always ends up with me asking more questions - which ends up in more digging.

This bit of digging did, though, provide some kind of answer - which is that perhaps Jesus had to die the way he died because of the Passover story. 

Passover was the story of how God redeemed the Israelites from slavery. It was a convenant, wrapped in a story... a story that the Jewish people told to remember how God chose them and rescued them to be the salvation of the world... wrapped around a promise, that God would be with them.

The central actor (rather despite himself I'd have to say) was the passover lamb - a "male without defect" which was selected (by Jesus' time) five days before Passover, killed ceremonially at the Temple on the Friday afternoon... the day after a passover meal that includes the curious tradition of taking three striped and pierced (no, seriously - from prophesies in the O.T.!) wafers, breaking the middle one, and then wrapping it in a cloth and 'burying' it until the end of the meal, when it is 'resurrected'.

I don't really understand where some of those traditions came from... more digging ahoy!

But, surely, there are too many parallels for Passover to not have something to do with Jesus' death.

Jesus rode into Jerusalem five days before Passover, was killed at 3.00 p.m. on the Friday afternoon just as the sacrificial lamb was being killed in the Temple, and was buried on the Friday evening. Before being resurrected early on the Sunday.

And Jesus seems to have seen his involvement as central to the story. In the Passover meal that he shared with his disciples, he took the bread and broke it and said 'This is my body'... and then after eating took the wine and said 'this is the new covenant in my blood'

 What covenant?

Well, Jeremiah 31 says:

"Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them," declares the LORD. "But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the LORD, "I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. (Jer 31 : 31-33)

So, from yesterday's slightly tentative question about obedience, I'm now wondering if Jesus death was another covenant, wrapped in another story, which represents and resurrects the original plan that God had for the salvation of the world...

Pop... right back at you with your lack of plan B ;)

And more digging... 

Monday, 18 July 2011

Why the way it happened?

There a niggling question that has been in the back of my mind for a few weeks.

Not a big one, at least not to start with, but one that highlights another situation where what I've always been taught (and - I'll admit - accepted,without even a murmur of questioning) and what the bible seems to be teaching in a more complete sense glide past each other like Hogwarts staircases, reaching different landings and taking you off in different directions.

My question is this:

If, as I was always told, Jesus' primary reason for living was to die, and then be raised from the dead, why did he have to die the way he did? On a cross, violently, in his prime, at 33 years of age?

Could he not have simply lived until he was old, and then died, and then been raised?

If the aim of his life was simply to overturn the sin that Adam and Eve brought into the world, wouldn't that have done the job? Wouldn't that have demonstrated the final victory of God?

Obviously not... because when Jesus asked God if there was another way, the answer was pretty conclusively 'no'. 

So Jesus did have to die the way that he did. Why?

I think there's a clue in the question of obedience... Philippians tells us, for example, that "He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross"

NT Wright even goes as far as to suggest that it was Christ's obedience, not just his death, that was crucial - his actually doing what Israel was supposed to have done - obeying God.

I've not finished unpacking this by any means, but if that's true - there's quite a difference between the Jesus I was taught about, for whom life was basically just a precursor to death, and a Jesus for whom life was also a key part of his mission.

... and what that means for me in how I live before I die.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Have you ever noticed...

... a particular style

of speech or praying. In church where, people move.

All the punctuation and word breaks around into strange. Places so that the sentences.

All stop.

And start.

In the wrong places and it sounds like they're on drugs?


Friday, 1 July 2011

It takes a long time

Earlier this month I said I'd start blogging again. I have. This month's tally has reached five (I think, with this one included) - not a bad start.

(I started this yesterday... seems that saving a blog on Blogger also takes a long time)

Writing those five, though, it's struck me though how different this blog is from my work blog. There, I can just drop in comments here there and everywhere and not worry too much about how they read. Here, maybe because there's something eternal about what I'm talking about, and something of God that I'm sharing, there's a need to take a bit more care.

Ultimately, I don't know who reads this, what they think, whether they know me or Jesus... and, although there's a bit of good-natured ribbing goes on in Christian circles, the kind of scattergun approach that is often employed in academia - picking at anything and everything just to provoke it to some kind of self-critique - would turn this blog into the rantings of an unabashed cynic.

That's not very constructive because, after all, whatever the minor or major niggles or questions, I am committed to Jesus, excited by his vision of Church, empowered by us being God's plan for the salvation of the world (Ephesians 2 somewhere!) - and that needs to show through too.

Writing this month, though, (oh, and a birthday that took me ever closer to the magic 40) has driven home the fact that things take a long time. I'm still writing, and thinking about issues that I've been thinking about for years. Church hasn't really changed much in the grand scheme of things. People are largely in the same place, situations and issues pretty much the same as they were 6 months ago. 

At least, that's the way I see it from my limited point of view.

If you feel that way too... then there's something that was shared in our homegroup a few months ago that has helped me come to terms with this and cope with the frustration.

Reading through 2 Corinthians, we reached the (chapter 10 and 11) bit where Paul is talking about the difference between him and the 'Super Apostles'.
  • Super apostles big themselves up, do big showy things and compare themselves with themselves. They commend themselves.
  • True apostles don't boast about what they do but simply produce fruit, work almost unseen except by God, are people of integrity. They are commended by God.
Key to our discussion was the nature of how the Kingdom is built; slowly, often hidden, simply one fruit at a time, a truly humble movement dependant on truly weak humans. We used the phrase 'viral' at one point - spreading like yeast, unseen, unstoppable, unnoticed, untrumpeted.  

And that's not a mistake. It's the way God intended it to be. 

That's the opposite of what I've always been told; that the Kingdom is built through Super Apostles.

It's so reassuring to know that God designed the Kingdom to be something that doesn't rest on my ability to deliver big things in short time scales. Rather, he designed it to be much much bigger than us so that it only successfully works, when each of us subsumes ourselves into it, playing our small, temporary, limited, hidden, human parts and leaves Him to worry about everything else.

The antedote for things taking so long, I've found, is accepting that they're supposed to...

Wednesday, 29 June 2011


I've no wish to wade into centuries of religious debate (and, apparently, it has been debated for centuries) but I'm confused about the whole communion lark.

As far as I can see, what we now call 'communion' or 'the Lord's supper' (I can't help but have a mental picture of Jesus with his slippers on having a few crackers and a bit of cheese before bed) came from the passover meal that Jesus shared with his disciples before going out to die.

If that's the case, then blessing and breaking bread was a normal part of the meal (as it was of pretty much every Jewish meal at the time) and blessing the wine was just a marker that it was a special meal with a particular significance.

Whether Jesus' words about 'whenever you do this' were directed at celebrating the passover (he was Jewish after all, and perhaps assumed that people would continue to celebrate the passover - just associating it with him) or whether that's supposed to apply to breaking the bread and blessing the wine, i.e. eating together, I don't kow. But there's no indication there that he was turning it into a ceremony.

Ditto the Lord's supper during Paul's time, where there is reference to eating together and to special Love Feasts (my years in YWAM swim back to haunt me - in a good way), but again no reference to a ceremonial bit of bread and bit of wine taken in isolation at the end of a service.

Where's that all come from?

And what's happened to the subversive 'show no favoritism, invite the lowly, eat with tax collectors' demonstrations of the Kingdom of God, which start with breaking the bread and blessing the wine putting Jesus right in the centre, and remembering that he's the reason that we gather?

Monday, 20 June 2011

Just off signal

At the moment, we've got some builders working outside where I work. I think they're cleaning the stonework.

In addition to pouring water all over us as we return from meetings in other parts of the university, they emit a constant kind of builder-chatter. Out of deference to the ivory towers that they're working on, what they say is only mostly blue. But being the west country, and they being Bristolian builders, most of what they say begins, ends (and mostly consists of) the sounds 'oi' and 'ar' - even the swearing. It makes you feel like you're working in a pirate ship.

Oh, and there's also the radio, which this morning as I arrived, spewed forth Lady Gaga - with the tuning slightly off signal.

Now, ask The Wife, and she'll tell you that distortion is a particularly resident bonnet bee for me. I'd rather listen to nothing than listen to something that has even the slightest chance of distorting.

Anyway... this made me think of a conversation I had yesterday with the new Pastor of our church. I say, new - he's been there for several months now.

In a brief 5-10 minutes we talked about a lot of things. But something that he said made me think.

I struggle with Sunday morning church because of the way that it seems to try and be a surrogate for a week's worth of 'Church'. In some ways, I'd rather see the week put back in order, and the Sunday service dissove into the everyday 'just being' Church. 

He, on the other hand, expressed what he wants to see in terms of 'getting the passion back' into the church so that they can take that passion and 'go out' into the week.

I don't think there's very much difference between the two. Ideally, they flow together into one.

But it did make me think how tricky it must be to lead a church when the people in it appear to be 'just off signal'.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

What do I do now?

When I was growing up, I remember being told that - when in a pickle - we could ask Jesus what to do. We could ask him, based on the fact that he had been a human and so had 'experienced everything that we could experience'.

At the time I must have nodded and thought 'yup'.

However, as I've got older, I've wondered how much wisdom there really is in telling people things like that. 

Setting aside all the trappings of modern life, Jesus still didn't know lots of situations. 

He was never married for example.

He never had children. Was never a father. He never failed to have children when he wanted some. Or wished he'd not had them when he had. 

He was never a woman. He was never pregnant. He was never a mother. 

He was never terminally ill.

Actually, when you think about it, the only person who really has a chance of Jesus knowing what they're experiencing, based on that logic, is a single Jewish carpenter under 30, living somewhere in occupied land, destined to save the world by giving up their life.

I don't know how many people that applies to.

Why are we told these things?

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Beginning again

Two months, nearly, it's been since I last posted. Asked by a friend the other day why I'd stopped, I replied that I wasn't posting any more because I wasn't sure how to say what I wanted to say without sounding judgemental.

That's not changed. It's not that I want to sound judgmental, it just comes out that way... so I type with some hesitation.

So, if that's why I've not been posting, why then have I come back? Well, there are a couple of reasons.

The first is that, for a number of reasons, my blogging habits have recently changed. My work blog, which used to be the home for occasional, long, academic posts has, over the last couple of months, become somewhere that I post to nearly every day. Writing vague, half-cooked ideas, explorations and honest reflection... things that pretty much drift to the surface of my mind as I live in the subject from day to day has taken the pressure off having to strive to achieve a particular 'quality' and, ironically, probably delivered more interesting material. And, it's been a lot more fun.

So, I wondered whether I could apply the same practice to this blog and abandon the polished for the rougher and the cooked for the more raw. I spend a lot of time just mulling over God-based things... so why not post that and opt for the honest over the safe as the strap line on the blog suggests.

The second reason though is that in a previous post, I promised to let you know how I got on being a comfortably olivey olive in a church salad full of more normal fruit (confused?)

The answer? Not very well. Although I continue to feel the freedom that I mentioned in that post to be me, and to not be too bothered about what others were doing, I'm still not putting into practice any kind of 'alternative, really me' type church.

This could be another good reason not to write. After all, who wants to read about someone not really doing what they intended to do?

But then, last Sunday afternoon, while attending a tea (we're so British - yes, there were even scones and cream - and it was pouring with rain) for some friends who live and work in Albania, I saw someone who left our church a number of months ago because of a disagreement over the direction that the church was taking. Committed to seeing the church change to the point that they were prepared to leave it... since they've left they've had no impact on it at all.

So, although there are things that I'm not comfortable with, and I'm not even really sure what I want from church any more - withdrawing from it, and taking my oliveness somewhere else is not going to achieve anything. 

So I'm sticking around...

Sunday, 24 April 2011

All those stories

Do you ever do that thing where you imagine what millions of people might be doing at 'this very moment'?

I do...

It's actually become a catchphrase in our house... it comes from a time when we lived in Cardiff, near to a churchyard. Sometimes at lunch, particularly in the spring, we would go for a walk on a quest for the first daffodils, and - being of a somewhat nostalgic nature - I would remark to The Wife that each of those gravestones represented a different life... "All those stories", I said...

"All those stories" has now become a trump card served to me every time I get too involved with a sense of my own mortality... synonymous with 'stop waffling and get on and do something constructive'... it's a (mostly) gentle way of prodding me back in the direction of real life.

Real life was certainly hanging about this morning. I missed The Wife's call to help her with a full nappy... Then we came downstairs to discover that one of the cats had peed out of the litter tray requiring the cleaning of the floor, the replacement of the mat and the removal of a long panel that runs underneath the kitchen cupboards... Then, just as I was doing that, Moo knocked the newly brewed coffeepot from the other kitchen worktop onto the floor... cue 20 mins of madness as we tried to keep her out of the kitchen, the cats (now with coffee-feet) off the lounge rug, clean up a pint of coffee and grounds from wife, baby, floor, walls and skirting and remove the rest of the cupboard paneling to let the place dry...

Then we had breakfast... whilst the cats fought in the back bedroom... (presumably hyper on second-hand coffee)

Then I remembered it was Easter... and, as I topped my boiled egg, thought about the Part-Time Monk who will be starting back on food today following lent spent on beer alone... and (apart from considerably thinner) wondered how he was feeling?

And read my friend Pop's post on Drifting, and wondered how he and his family were... 

And then it occurred to me that somewhere around 2000 years ago... God was raising Jesus from the dead...

That helped to put things into perspective. 

Happy Easter :)

Saturday, 23 April 2011

What's in a name?

When I was at university, one of our linguistics lecturers told us a story... that goes something like this.

In the 1920s, insurance agents were called to deal with a number of explosions on an oil platform. When they visited the platform, they noticed an interesting pattern. Rules required barrels on the platform to be painted with labels depending on whether they were 'full' or 'empty'. Workers would then behave differently towards each. They would take great care of barrels that were 'full' - of cold, inert and extremely safe crude oil - not smoking around them, and transporting and stacking them carefully. Those that were 'empty' - empty of oil, but full of highly explosive gasses - they would smoke around and throw around the platform... until they exploded.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Gone with the wind - part 1

I want to share something quite personal, that I alluded to a couple of posts ago, about why it was that I stopped doing 'mission'. But, by way of introduction...

At the moment, I'm living with a mission. No, not the Christian one... yes, all right, that one too... No, my mission is simple. It is to cycle to work and back. Am I getting fit you ask... well, that's a side effect... and thinner too, gradually. But the real motive is more mundane... with an unfettered addition for books threatening to bankrupt the Môme household, The Wife has imposed a rule... I'm not allowed to buy any books unless I can find extra money. 

Goodbye comfortable daily 10 minute train journey... hello daily 6 mile cycle... and then again to get home.

That's how much I need to buy books...

Tuesday, 29 March 2011


I have to admit to having always been intrigued by the question of how our Bible came about. Despite the various tongue-in-cheek parodies of the KJV in previous posts, it's something that I actually think about... and have some kind of vague academic interest in, what with having been involved in some historical and translational study at points in the past...

Which is why I'm particularly puzzled by a few questions... not least of which is how the three main families of Christianity (Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox) have ended up with three different bibles, all with a different number of books in them... 

Monday, 28 March 2011

It ain't where you live...

One of the reasons that I think I struggle with my current church experience is that I can't help comparing it to the experience of living in pretty close Christian community. This isn't something that I've done recently, but every couple of years from 1989 to 1999 I swapped 'normal' life in the UK for an overseas placement with a number of different Christian organisations. Ostensibly, I suppose, I was a missionary... but, to be honest, I don't really remember much 'missioning' going on. Most of what kept me busy was spending time with other Christians... and looking after some pretty broken buildings. 

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Several weeks...

As the blog by my friend Pop reaches its one-year anniversary (congratulations Pop, by the way... no-one doubted you'd make it... and you have, provoking much thinking on the way... thank you!) ... in a torturous 'tedious link' I think I have to comment that a year is 52 weeks...

Pipe smoking, ex PM Harold Wilson famously suggested once that "A week is a long time in politics".

The Barenaked ladies too, took time to point out that a week can be a long time...

The former was a political heavyweight... the latter ended up singing about Sushi and Chinese Chickens... but they've both got a point.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

A glass full of ice-cubes

Pop's comment to my previous post prompted some thought. Clearly there's something wrong with my relationship with the Church 'event' that happens on a Sunday... But is it Church, or is it my heart-attitude?

let's get back to the source... what did Jesus do?

He attended Sabbath Synagogue. New converts to Christianity also continued to meet at the Jerusalem temple, and local synagogues albeit in the gentiles court, and Paul usually started at the local synagogue as he travelled around.

Clearly then, there's clearly nothing wrong with a weekly meeting...

What about the content...?

Well, Synagogue was a relatively short meeting that began with a standard call to worship, readings according to a set programme, and a short (or very short - see what Jesus said after reading the scrolls in Luke 4) sermon often given by the same person who did the readings. The service ended with a blessing.

Sounds like our services are kind of based on what happened at Synagogues, so - again - nothing much wrong with the ingredients that go into it...

So, should I just put up and shut up? What should I think about my instinct that there's something about it that's just not working... at least for me?

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Funny way to feast...

I confess to being a little cheesed off... 

Sunday past, church was - frankly - poor.

Imagine you turned up at the family home for Christmas hoping for hugs all round and a chance to celebrate being together to catch up on a year's worth of life around the table... to find that, rather than a feast of family and food... you were solemnly seated, but were then obliged to sit in silence (unless instructed to greet each other) at a table dripping with the most tastiest edibles, whilst notices were given, hymns were sung, prayers were said, sermons were delivered, more songs were sung, solemn moments were had... Then, just as you were allowed to finally tuck in and talk, the table was cleared and you were sent off to bed.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

The Whole Gospel...

I've realised that my thinking about the Kingdom has taken a dangerous turn recently...

Having grown up in a church-system that (if I'm honest) was about as toothless as the Stones' bearded hag... I find the image of a revolutionary social justice type Kingdom movement very exciting... I'm not quite up there toting a machine gun in his name in the way that some liberation theologians would suggest, but my feeling about how broken the world is and how much it needs fixing by a just God gets me pretty close...