Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Off the naughty step

I'm on a bit of a roll with these radio thoughts, so may as well make the most of it.
(And I have still been reading those comments, including today one from Rob about 'allowing yourself to be drawn limitlessly into a fuller and more wholesome approach to yourself and others' through 'the ethics of Jesus'. Nice.)
So, to that radio thought, with Jackson Five's 'Want you back' as music bed:

Someone showed up recently who’d been missing for months... Think floppy hair, flash ties, endless line of celebrity guests...? That’s right: Mr Jonathan Woss. Like him or loathe him, he creates a buzz doesn’t he? And let’s be honest, Friday night telly WAS starting to get a bit dull.

And then out of the blue, he actually said sorry. Three months earlier he’d made a prank phone call that offended half the country. Now here he was, welcomed back with cheers and applause, just by eating a bit of humble pie. I nearly dropped my horlicks. (And my pie.)

Now let’s face it, Mr Ross isn’t the first person ever to mess up. (I nearly strangled the cat yesterday, before I’d even got out of bed). It made me think though, what ELSE do I do that upsets people? And more to the point, GOD? Quite a lot actually. Which makes me rather glad there’s some good news too. That if I say sorry and mean it, then I get a warm welcome back. From the Lord God Almighty no less. Wow. It’s enough to make me want to go on TV and tell everyone about it.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Your neighbour needs you

Still catching up with comments, but meanwhile, another radio thought that hopefully taps into what's being bantered about over the water cooler. Music bed: 'Gonna make you a star', David Essex.:

Now there’s one question that’s been keeping us all awake at night the past few weeks. Well, me and my flatmates anyway. That’s right: who’s going to win ‘Your country needs you’ and take Britain to Eurovision? And if you‘ve been watching the show you’ll know there’ve been a few other pressing questions too. Like, how many teenage girls will swoon over Mark this week? And have Jade’s legs actually stopped growing?

It’s been edge of your seat stuff watching them all face the public vote as well. You can see it written on their faces: ‘Will I make it? Does my country need me?’ The funny thing is, this is the kind of question we ALL ask ourselves from time to time. Does anyone need or want me? And you might be surprised to hear that the answer is, yeah. You see, in God’s scheme of things you don’t have to be able to sing like a nightingale to have a job to do, a role to fill - and probably one that no-one else could do half as well as you. Even if it’s simply cooking a nice dish or helping someone who needs it. So go on, be the star you were always meant to be. I can’t speak for your country. But God wants you, and your neighbour needs you. So what are you waiting for?

And this marks, finally, my 100th post. Do you get a telegram from the Queen?

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Obama Superhero

A radio thought (with crowd noise and star spangled banner added) for The Full Breakfast show on Pulse 2 in Bradford this Sunday morning, a few times between 730 and 10am. Also available for member download on Audiopot, the UK's online library of Christian audio.

Now unless you’ve been living under a stone or practising to be a hermit, you’ll know that something rather momentous has happened across the pond (and I don’t mean the one in your garden with carp in it). I’m talking of course about Barack Obama becoming head honcho of the United States. It’s all created a bit of a stir hasn’t it? (more than when we got a new president for the local darts club anyway). In fact, the last time I saw this amount of expectation surrounding one man, he was running out of a phone box in a red cape wearing his pants on the outside. Leader of the free world, for goodness sake. Imagine waking up on a Monday morning and suddenly remembering THAT was your day job.
Obama’s got a lot going for him. He’s also got problems waiting in his in tray that would make most of us reach for the valium. It's encouraging that he’s a man of faith, and that he sets such store on that little word HOPE. Hope is bigger than optimism, carrying on despite setbacks. It’s got a stronger foundation. But actually, there’s only one man who’s ever lived who CAN carry the hopes of the whole world. Jesus didn’t have laser vision or the keys to the White House. He showed that powerlessness, and a cross, were what’s needed to REALLY get things sorted.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Parris revisited

I should clarify why the Matthew Parris article impressed me. Jonathan mentioned DR had 'crowed' about this article and I didn't mean to give that impression myself. I don't think, oh here's the promise of a scalp for the Christians! I find this you/us, your gang/our gang thinking that is sometimes conveyed - and I'm not referring to J there - fairly fruitless. It doesn't take a degree in human nature to know that any kind of 'who's winning the argument?' approach tends just to make people defensive and hardened in their own stance.

What impressed me was this: a person being ready to acknowledge and humble enough to express a reality - not mere argument - that posed a challenge to his world view. And one of the most powerful realities there is: the profound observable - note, those of you keen on observable evidence - change that sincere personal Christian faith has wrought in the life and character of the Africans MP witnessed. The open-ness, the boldness, the freedom from former bonds - including that of abject fear of men in a tribal culture.

It's evidence of the raw spiritual power of the faith at work, in a continent riven by brutal conflict and dark forces. The reality and presence of the living Christ bringing peace, wholeness, sanity and love to people 'with all kinds of hang-ups'. A world away from the intellectual chess playing of constructing arguments against the existence of God in comfortable western sitting rooms (my apologies if you're an atheist reading this in your bedroom). Isn't it slightly odd that these should be the effects of a 'delusion'? If you're not grappling with the awesome weight of the power of religion in people's lives across the globe, including in cultures very different from our own such as MP observes here, then it strikes me you're missing a trick somewhere along the way.

And before I close, who's been watching Christianity: a History, C4 Sun nights 7pm, and Around the world in 80 faiths, BBC2 Fri nights 9pm? Both pretty interesting and informative.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

An atheist reflects

This is superb: an intelligent atheist writer honestly expressing the unsettling effect on his worldview from witnessing real Christianity at work in people's lives in a context where it can be really seen to make a difference. I've read quite a lot of Matthew Parris before. An example of honest profound reflection that I can really respect. See what you think.

From The Times, December 27, 2008:

'As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God'
Missionaries, not aid money, are the solution to Africa's biggest problem - the crushing passivity of the people's mindset.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

A radical goodness

A couple of points from comments made on the last post have got me thinking. First, Rob saying that there are good and bad people in both the atheist and Christian/religious camps. There is of course a bridge-building value to this point: it's always good to critically reflect on your own viewpoint and those in your own camp, and look for the good in 'the other'. But the thought opens up a huge issue, which Jimmy touched on in acknowledging himself a sinner in the sight of God. What is the path to true goodness? Here the radical, searching 'joints and marrow, soul and spirit' nature of the Christian message kicks in. If you can handle the concept of seraphim, Isaiah 6:1-7 is worth a look on this score: the record of an experience of holiness and power that forced a man to exclaim 'Woe is me, for I am lost'.

Let's not be coy here, if Christianity doesn't have something distinctive to say about what it means to be good, and a source of power to produce deep radical goodness, then what's the point of being a Christian? But we (that's not meant to be royal by the way) believe it does - that an encounter with the divine can make a person aware of how oriented they are towards self. This challenges me; eg a good definition of true gentleness is 'power under control', but 'gentleness' may also be self-protection in disguise. In how many other ways can 'virtue' be a cloak for self-seeking?

This is one of the things that draws me about Cnity: that it searches and lays bare, strips away the illusions we can entertain about ourselves. We talk about being decent and moral, but scripture uncovers our state in light of the divine majesty, : 'All your righteous acts are as filthy rags'. Not a moral code, but a path through self-recognition to transformation.

God on a cross, weak to be strong, the first shall be last: the Christian ethic is counter-intuitive, turns things on their head, constantly surprises. This is part of its magnetism 'for those who have ears to hear'.

I'll get to the latter comments... think I've seen the muslim programme before Rob, I'll check it out. Heading south for the winter; well, weekend. To Devon.

Friday, 2 January 2009

A hidden power

Hunkered down and holed up in Bridge of Weir till the 5th. Just watched Ryan's Daughter cos it's five stars and described as a bleak romantic epic; directed by David Lean. Good in its depiction of a young girl's yearning for passion, and the mob cruelty and cowardice, but lonngg... Yesterday, embarked on The Spy who loved me but simply stopped caring with half an hour or so to go, though Jaws's grin and the corny lines hooked me in at the start.

Interacting at close quarters with folk who don't share my faith can be unsettling. I've recently spent time with some people close to me who are not 'in the Christian fold'. But they espouse and practise worthy values of unselfishness, caring, good relationships and communication. Sometimes, particularly in the realm of practical, helping tasks, I have felt put in the shade by unbelieving peers whose character and actions appear to outshine mine. It prompts me to reflect on the complex web of influences that shape an individual's personality and the fruit of their life. Believing in God, I guess I regard all such influences as having their ultimate source in... Him? the Godhead? (I wonder if English will any time soon acquire a non gender specific personal pronoun...) But I don't mean that to sound glib. It's striking how far off the radar any sustained thought about God is in the minds of many decent, moral folk in western society. We watched 'The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe' on Boxing Day. It was followed by Eastenders. A family member commented on the incongruity of this Christmassy magical fantasy and the gritty realism of 'the square'. Narnia, sandwiched between soaps. Did anyone, I thought, recognise or entertain the possibility of a link between Lewis's fantasy land, and reality? That Narnia might symbolise an unseen but accessible and extraordinary spiritual world that could impinge on our ordinary workaday world? For how many did the magic of the story crumble to dust as the credits rolled?

I'm reminded again of what former thinkers have noted of God's 'hiddenness'. The story of Christ's resurrection, if real, must have the power to transfigure a life, and ultimately the world. And perhaps in cultures more open to spiritual reality than ours its power impacts more readily. Here the seed in large part lies dormant. When I read a word of scripture in the morning, when fresh, eg the other day, 'Your hearts must not be troubled, bleieve in God, believe also in me...' John 14:1, I sense its radical power... all those things I need to learn not to worry about... So if I allow it to change me, maybe it can at least start to change my world.

Happy new year.