I recently had my third COVID vaccination. Having had two shots of the AstraZeneca vaccine earlier this year, I now received the Moderna version as a booster. I am grateful to the scientists and health staff—virologists, geneticists, epidemiologists, nurses, and so forth—that have made this possible in such a short time, many working ridiculously long hours to achieve what some said was impossible, many of whom are Christian believers as well as people from other faiths, highly motivated to use their gifts to help their fellow humans . . . and many based here in my home town of Cambridge. Continue reading “Salt of the earth? A Christian perspective on vaccination”
Last week our American friends celebrated Thanksgiving. A couple of thoughts came to mind as I reflected on this that, I hope, are helpful.
First, that it’s good to remember our stories: as individuals and communities we are formed and find our identity in the stories we tell about ourselves. For example, if she wanted to cross the road my great grandmother would simply stride into the (horse-drawn) traffic with her umbrella held aloft on the basis that her mission trumped everyone else’s. And I am reliably informed that if she wanted to read in bed she would balance a candle on her ample bosom and enjoy some moments of refuge after a traffic-stopping day. Now from these two brief accounts you probably have a better picture of dear old Great Grandma that if I had given you a list of facts: that she lived in Kingston, was born in the 1860s (I think) and so on. Stories shine light on our lives and give meaning to our existence; even more, they define us, they shape us. Continue reading “The power of stories: Thanksgiving and Advent”
In response to my last blog—Is the Gospel Good News?—I was asked a very fundamental question:
What are the consequences of our deliberate evil deeds? Can we do whatever we like and will God forgive us anyway?
I decided to post my response here hoping that it may help others.
To be honest, a book is needed to answer this question! I probably won’t write one, though, because others have done a much better job than I could ever do—especially David Bentley Hart whose book (That All Shall Be Saved) I came across after writing my last blog. I write quickly, so my thoughts are not as organised as I’d like them to be! Continue reading “The Good News—some follow-up thoughts”
An Easter meditation in the company of George MacDonald and David Bentley Hart
“Yet I know that good is coming to me—that good is always coming; though few have at all times the simplicity and the courage to believe it.”
– George MacDonald
The Easter festival celebrates that Jesus, through his incarnation, death, and resurrection, decisively defeated the powers of evil in this world. Few who call themselves Christians would argue with this central Christian claim; however, exactly how this was achieved and its implications are an ongoing matter of debate. Here, I want to focus on just one aspect of that debate and its consequences with particular thanks to my mentor George MacDonald and to David Bentley Hart as we dip into the latter’s paper, “God, Creation, and Evil: The Moral Meaning of creatio ex nihilho.”1 Continue reading “Is the Gospel Good News?”
Image: George Frederick Watts, Chaos (c. 1875).
With global anxiety increasing as we face threats in so many areas, how should we—as people of faith—respond?
It is clear that humanity is facing a number of existential crises: sea-levels rising, more frequent “weather events,” insect numbers decimated, oxygen levels in the sea declining, species extinction, plastic pollution, toxic air . . . and the list could go on. When we add to this political posturing, social inequality, the rise of nationalism, and nuclear arms proliferation we end up with the perfect storm. Many are anxious. Is this the end of the world? So prevalent is anxiety in the current climate that one paper recently presented us with the “A-Z of climate anxiety: how to avoid meltdown,” subtitled: “With the climate emergency putting our mental health at risk, Emma Beddington presents an everyday guide to eco wellbeing.” This may, perhaps, result in some personal comfort but offers little hope for the planet. Continue reading “Rapture theology and the end times”
I am please to announce that my new book—The Theology of George MacDonald: The Child Against the Vampire of Fundamentalism—is now available. You can preview it here at Pickwick Publications or click here for the Amazon listing. If you are interested in the story of how it came to be written, read on.
George MacDonald, writing in 1868, observed that when there is contempt for the truth:
” . . . then, as we see in the French Revolution, the wild beast in man breaks from its den, and chaos returns.” 1
I have no idea whether MacDonald had ever read Dostoevsky, but he too lamented the human capacity for bestiality.
“Indeed, people sometimes speak of man’s bestial cruelty, but that is very unfair and insulting to the beasts: a beast can never be so cruel as a man, so ingeniously, so artistically cruel.”2
We are witnessing, increasingly, the violence of this ‘wild beast’. In the ‘light’ of the events in New Zealand, Muslims are right to point the finger at mendacious hypocrites such as Trump who spout xenophobic rhetoric, manufacture ‘invasions’, build walls, and deny both the toxic reality and the extent of white supremacy. Speaking directly to the President, Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), says:
“The terrorist has quoted the most powerful person in the world, President Trump… We hold you responsible for this growing anti-Muslim sentiment.”
Trump disagrees. Speaking on NBC news on Friday 15 March, he remarked that white supremacists are only ‘a small group of people’, choosing to ignore the fact that one-third of his countrymen are of the opinion that ‘America must protect and preserve its White European heritage’ (Reuters/Ipsos/UVA Center for Politics Race Poll, 2017) and 71% self-identify as those mandated (many say by God) to dominate the earth as God’s chosen nation (Gallup, 2017).3
But chosen for what? Theology understands that when God chooses people or nations it is not for salvation (leading to a sense of supremacy) but for demonstration—the demonstration of an alternative kingdom of peace; an ideology that rejects ‘the beast’. In short, those who shed blood—and promote the shedding of blood—are in no way ‘supreme’ but deluded.
As the horror of the events in new Zealand became apparent, Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, reminded us of a fundamental Christian truth which seems to have been forgotten by so many:
“Jesus calls us to welcome strangers and love our neighbour however different.”
May those of us who claim faith, of whatever affiliation, have the courage to live in this ‘beastly’ world as champions of truth and agents of peace.
I am reflecting this morning on the name of Christ, that is, ‘the Messiah’.
Some years ago—I think it was ten years ago—I wrote a song called ‘Your Name’, a meditation on the name of Jesus. I was reflecting at the time on how biblical names often summed up the character of a person. We find, for example, that Jacob bore a name which, according to some scholars, means ‘deceiver’ or ‘supplanter’ (and was known for being a bit of a swindler). In the New Testament, perhaps the most famous example is Jesus’s affirmation of Peter’s name as ‘The Rock’. Peter, according to the NT narrative, was for much of his early life anything but a rock: somewhat unstable, he was prone to impetuous outbursts and famously (as predicted by Jesus) denied knowing Jesus three times just before the latter’s death. Continue reading “Your Name – a meditation on the moral perfection of Christ”
In this post, I explore the role of Christ as light-bearer – one who shines in order to dispel darkness. We consider the need for the church to be more self-critical in response.
Holman Hunt’s famous image, Light of the World, is often interpreted as Christ knocking at the door of an unresponsive human heart — a wooden door overgrown with weeds and with no visible external handle. The metaphor is clear. The image, however, raises pertinent questions regarding both subject and object.
Regarding the subject, Hunt’s portrayal of Christ (as a Westerner) dressed in rich, flowing, almost middle-Eastern kingly robes hints at his divine role as the King of Kings. His messianic role and divine nature are reinforced by a jewelled circlet hinting at a crown of thorns and a head haloed by a rising moon. The dark garden scene is reminiscent of an unoccupied Eden. Instead of tending the garden of the world, the soul is barricaded within its own alternative, self-preoccupied reality. A kind of garden shed. Continue reading “Is the light of Christ being excluded from the church?”
Some people have been asking me about the picture in my last post. It is worth a closer look. Its message is, sadly, timeless, but particularly relevant to our troubled age. In the 1880s, the artist, G. F. Watts (1817–1904), was a senior figure in the London art world and known as ‘England’s Michelangelo’. He was an intellectual whose work pioneered symbolism; a deep thinker who painted ideas. Oscar Wilde called him ‘a great originative and imaginative genius’.1 Barak Obama was particularly drawn to Watt’s Hope which, I read somewhere, hung in the White House, and Watts was an inspiration to Martin Luther King. (This Guardian article is a good introduction to Watts.)
The full title of this work is Mammon—dedicated to his worshippers and the heavy, gilded, obscene demonic deity dominating this image is ‘massive’, that is, weighed down by gold whose gravitational pull binds him to the earth. His gouty leg (more visible in the artist’s line drawing of the subject) and unfeeling, swollen arm bear down on lifeless figures—fragile humanity, the imago Dei crushed by the weight of unfeeling avarice. Continue reading “Mammon—dedicated to his worshippers”