21 February 2009

Popular Spirituality?

This afternoon I was stuck in traffic behind a car with two bumper-stickers that I thought bore witness to a rather confusing form of popular spirituality:

Bumper Sticker 1: 'Caution: Never go faster than your angel can fix'
Bumper Sticker 2: 'Life's a bitch and so am I'

So, basically, 'God is there to fix up my messes but I don't need to give any consideration to others'?

19 February 2009

The Little Things in Life

This thought was sparked by a post elsewhere in blogdom and it's not a current issue for me at the moment, so I thought I'd post it now.

If you want to do a very small thing to be kind to your minister, don't give him or her letters to deliver to other people that you could easily put in the post or deliver yourself.


1) The minister probably has a list of 50 small things like that to do and the longer the list gets, the more stress it creates. Personally speaking, I'm not kidding when I say I'm afraid I'll forget; don't laugh it off because you think 'I'm young'. It's not my age, it's the number of things on the to do list.

2) In many cases, the minister will either have to get in the car specifically to deliver your letter or will have to put it in the post himself. If she does the former, the cost of petrol might very well exceed the cost of the stamp not to mention the cost of CO2 to the environment.

3) Because who thought kindness to your minister could be bought for the price of a 2nd class stamp? Post that letter and give yourself a pat on the back and say 'Well done.'

18 February 2009

Judgement or Judgementalism?

On my principle of never wasting a piece of writing, here's this month's attempt for the church magazine.


The other day I heard someone quote the text 'Judge not lest ye be judged' in a way that seemed to imply something along the lines of 'Don't disagree with my beliefs and I won't disagree with yours'.

On the other hand, some people seem to feel that the world has become a hostile place for Christians and that to express any conviction other than 'anything goes' is no longer permissible in wider society. Some Christians seem to be asking the question: 'Don't we have a right to express our views just much as anyone else? Why is that it we are seen as being judgemental when we stand up for what we believe?'

I often joke that my 'easy answer' is 'there is no easy answer' and this seems to be one of those situations. I offer this article as a think-piece in the expectation that not everyone will agree with me but perhaps it will start an interesting conversation.

To begin, you'll probably not be surprised that I believe that Christians do have a right to express our faith and our views. Indeed, I believe that Scripture tells us that we have an obligation to do so.

Of course, in a democratic society, other people also have the right to express their views. Here is where I expect some possible disagreement: I think that Christians risk being seen as judgemental when we fall into the trap of thinking that the wider would should agree with us and when we become become outraged when people don't. Sometimes the Christian media gives me the impression that it it never occurred to us that people of other faiths (or even of no faith) might have given quite a bit of thought to their position and come up with a sincerely-held and strongly-held view that is very different from our own.

When I was an adolescent, I was puzzled to be told by adults in the church 'There are no questions about faith that are out of bounds' and then to find that people got angry with my questions. Many years later, I realised that I wasn't supposed to ask questions like 'Why do we believe this?' I was supposed to ask the question 'What is the right answer to my question?'. Then, I was supposed to accept the church's answer and go away and believe as everyone else did.

I sometimes get the impression that the Christian Church has this attitude toward witnessing. It seems that we naively expect to put forward our point of view and have it gladly received. We get frustrated and maybe even angry when our seeds of wisdom fall on rocky soil, as Jesus said that some of them would most certainly do.

Scripture also tells us that no one can profess faith in Jesus as Lord except by the Holy Spirit. It's our duty as Christians to witness to the Gospel in the same way that a witness to an accident tells the court what she saw. But, just as the witness in court cannot control the court's decision, it's not our job to change the hearts of people: that's God's job. I think it's when we begin think that we must change people's hearts that we risk being seen as judgemental.

In witnessing to the Christian faith, there will inevitably be some people who see us as being judgemental; as the saying goes, 'You can't please all of the people all of the time'. There are many people in our society who think that to have a strongly-held religious conviction or belief is necessarily to be judgemental. As the person did the other day, they might quote 'Judge not lest ye be judged' in that way.

However, biblical judgement is not about having strong convictions, it's about judging someone as worthy or unworthy of being in God's Kingdom. The bible also tells us that this kind of judgement is not for us to do but is to be left to God.

Let's not fall into the world's trap of believing that to have a strongly-held view on a matter of faith or ethics or morality is to be 'judgemental'. As we come into Lent, we will need to see clearly in order to turn again and walk in God's direction. We cannot walk in God's direction if we don't have a clear idea of what constitutes godliness.

But let's also recognise that what God asks of us is to tell our story to others, to give witness to what we have seen and experienced of God. Let's recognise that it is not up to us to convert people or to change their hearts. Equally let's walk with peace, patience, kindness and gentleness toward others and leave the final judgement to God.

15 February 2009

Feminized Church Devalues Men

Discussing the issue of 'Men and Church' around the blogosphere, I'm genuinely trying to understand the following two comments.

1) The milder comment is that the church has been 'feminized' and so it is unattractive to men - that's why men are staying away from church. It was also suggested that church leadership which consciously gives thought to not being either too feminine or masculine could be a remedy for this. (Do I say 'Phew, thank goodness I'm not "too feminine"' or 'Heavens! Am I too feminine' to this idea? It's all very strange.)

2) The comment that is more painful to hear was that the church, like general society, 'devalues' men.

I don't know of any denomination in the UK or the US which is dominated by female clergy. I'm not going to cry 'anti female' at this because I realise that there is a lot of history behind this state of affairs and I also understand that history always moves more slowly than most reformers would like.

But I
am puzzled by how an institution dominated by men can be either 'feminized' or - even more strangely - have become an institution which actually devalues men. I could contemplate a congregation with a female minister as possibly being 'too feminine', but the idea that institutions dominated by men for the 2000 years could be either too feminine or anti-male eludes me.

Anyone care to explain?

14 February 2009

Masculine Christianity

My friend Dave recently linked to a post which suggested that the church should have a masculine ethos. The premise is that 1 Corinthians 16:13 says in the original Greek that the church should 'Watch, stand firm in the faith, be men, be strong' so somehow, this means the church should have a masculine ethos.

I don't want to debate the process of translation or of exegesis that arrives at this understanding.

What bothers me is the idea of 'masculine Christianity' that appears to be becoming popular, doubtless due in no small measure to the
the rantings of Mark Driscoll and his disciples who come up with amazingly anti-Gospel sound-bites like:
We are deadly serious about the great commission and loading all guns to storm hell with the gospel of grace. And we need more men.
Driscoll and his ilk are going to be macho for the Gospel? They are going to do what? Shoot anyone who doesn't love his or her neighbour? Help to usher in the Prince of Peace to his Kingdom through war and hostage-taking?  

Well, count me as one woman who grew up with this sort of doggy-do of a theology and who is not going to be silent in the face of this kind of untruth-dressed-as-truth.

Imagine 'masculine Christians' in the Desert with Jesus:
Come'on Jesus! Show the devil your stuff and jump off that Temple. Take control of the world and we'll be your army. And while you're at it, sure, you can go ahead and feed the hungry by turning those rocks into bread.

Or how about in the Garden of Gethsemane
Hey Jesus! Why are ya prayin'? Prayin's for girls! Now is the time for action; are you afraid to defend yourself? ****** he's putting the soldier's ear back! Stupid wimp. I guess we knew all along that he didn't have the guts to do what needs doing.

It's not about 'masculine' Christianity or 'feminine' Christianity, it's about Christ-centred Christianity. It's about the church of Christ imitating Christ. Jesus pointed out that he could have called down legions of angels rather than submit himself to the cross. Going to the cross was not an act of passivity nor was it a lack of decisiveness or courage: it was an act of faith. An act of faith in the Resurrection and in the Father's being completely without reference to death. It was an act of faith that death and evil would be defeated not by swinging swords at them, but by entering
into them.

The kind of 'masculine Christianity' that is being advocated today is the same self-help idolatry that the ancient Israelites fell into and it's the same that the Roman Empire promoted and it's the same self-help idolatry that our own culture promotes: that our power rests in our own courage and strength and ability to fend for ourselves.

Those who see themselves either as being 'in power' or entitled to being 'in power' will easily fall prey to this idolatry. It's also easy to see why those who either consider themselves to be underdogs, or who have sympathy with underdogs, will grasp the meaning of Christ's gospel that the last will be first and that his strength comes when we are weak. It's obvious why those who want to see themselves as strong and macho don't like the real Gospel, but that doesn't make them right.

Topical Jokes for Your Amusement

I received the following jokes on a closed email list.  I can't hat tip the person who sent them, but I think he was probably just passing them on.  For once, these are UK-centric jokes rather than US-centric.  Enjoy.


I lent my brother £20 last week. Turns out I'm now the UK's fifth biggest lender.

Cadburys is to launch a chocolate bar you don't have to pay for until next year. It will be called the Credit Crunchie.

Marks and Spencers are to merge with Poundstretchers. The new stores will be called Stretch Marks.

Poundland is to restructure for the recession and will be called '50p Land'.

Northern Rock is to be rebranded Northern Pebble.

Bank Managers are to concentrate on the Big Issues. They'll all be out on the street selling them next week.

The Isle of Dogs bank collapsed today. The retrievers have been called in.

The Origami Bank has folded, and 5,000 staff got the chop at the Karate Bank.

What do you call five hedge fund managers at the bottom of the ocean?
A good start.

How do you define optimism?
A banker who irons five shirts on a Sunday.

What's the difference between the BBC's Business Editor Robert Peston and God?
God doesn't think he's Robert Peston.

What's the difference between an investment banker and a large pizza?
The pizza can still feed a family of four.

Why have estate agents stopped looking out of the window in the morning?
Because otherwise they'd have nothing to do in the afternoon.

What's the difference between an investment banker and a pigeon?
The pigeon is still capable of leaving a deposit on a new Ferrari.

The credit crunch has helped me get back on my feet. The car's been repossessed.

What do you say to a hedge fund manager who can't sell anything?
A quarter-pounder with fries, please.

A man went to his bank manager and said: 'I'd like to start a small business. How do I go about it?' 'Simple,' said the bank manager. 'Buy a big one and wait.'

What have an Icelandic bank and an Icelandic streaker got in common?
They both have frozen assets.

Overheard in a City bar: 'This credit crunch is worse than a divorce. I've lost half my net worth and I still have a wife.'

The bank returned a cheque to me this morning, stamped: 'insufficient funds.' Are they being ironic?

You know it's a credit crunch when the ATM cash machine asks if you can spare any change.

07 February 2009

A Mature Faith?

I found the following article by Giles Fraser in this week's Church Times to be very interesting: Growing Up is a Moral Business

Fraser writes:
The true grown-up is the person who is able to face genuine otherness with gratitude and thanksgiving. The grown-up does not need to analyse every situation with a sharp eye for how it benefits him or her.
Winnicott put it thus: “A sign of health in the mind is the ability of one individual to enter imaginatively and accurately into the thoughts and feelings and hopes and fears of another.”

Fraser goes on to write that churches (usually? often?) take the approach with young children of teaching them the simple message 'Jesus Loves You'. But as children get older, there is also 'a call to wake up to the needs of others'.

Sometimes Christians quibble about whether 'the Gospel message' is about 'God loves you' or whether it is about service to others. Along with many other expressions of the Christian faith, Methodism has always asserted that 'the Gospel message' is about both of these things: knowing oneself to be loved by God and serving others because of having been empowered by God's love.

I've seen at close hand that damage that people do to their own lives by living life as if the primary human questions were 'What can other people do for me?' 'How can I make sure I get (more than) my share of stuff in life?' 'How can I make sure the other guy doesn't take what's mine?'

If the Christian faith is more than simply serving others, then it is also more than simply saying 'God loves me.'