Light in the darkness

In my research and writing at the moment I am looking at the troubling alliance between the church and what might be termed the ‘spirit of empire’, that is, the felt need to dominate and control others. While the church may convince herself that this is purely for altruistic purposes—to save the lost or ameliorate society and so forth—the basic problem is that ‘empire’ is fundamentally contrary to the way of the self-denying Christ. Christ did not manipulate, coerce, or dominate: he loved others and sacrificed his life on their behalf just as, as I write, many Ukrainians are preparing to do for the sake of their children and grandchildren. As I argue in my forthcoming book, if ‘sin’ is essentially self-centredness then empire is self-centredness amplified.

Like you, I am deeply troubled by the war in Ukraine and, in light of the above premise, some thoughts come to mind that, I hope, may help you to process your own thoughts. Continue reading “Light in the darkness”

Salt of the earth? A Christian perspective on vaccination

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”

The power of stories: Thanksgiving and Advent

Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863–1930), ‘Thanksgiving’.

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”

Your Name – a meditation on the moral perfection of Christ

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”

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.


Continue reading “Becoming an Anglican”

The problem of worship

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.

Continue reading “The problem of worship”

Loving the church

Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her. (Eph. 3:25)

Church-bashing is becoming a popular internet game. One recent article suggested that if Jesus was to return to earth, it would be the Christians who would want to crucify him again—particularly so-called ‘religious’ Christians from established church(es) who are, naturally, in league with the system etc. I find these articles both worrying and offensive.

Continue reading “Loving the church”

The presence of God

This (rather long) post explores the slippery concept of ‘the presence of God’ by meditating particularly on the narrative of Moses. Since humans, in some sense, carry God’s image, we consider how, as-image bearers, our role is to fill the earth with light and partner with God to ‘fill the earth with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea’. It’s a long read but (though I say it myself) well worth the effort. Continue reading “The presence of God”

Art for art’s sake

I remember as a fifteen year old, on a trip to relatives in Holland, coming across the music of Tom Paxton. I felt like I had stumbled into heaven. Soon the likes of Tom’s successors – Bert Jansch, John Renbourne, Paul Simon and James Taylor – were giving me guitar lessons. Not that they knew it, of course: I simply played their LP’s on my merciless record player until they were irretrievably scratchy – but at least I could play some of the most difficult passages. My education was supplemented by weekly trips to the White Horse in Reading where I joined bearded guitar-wielding hippies and other fresh-faced lads like myself nursing under-age pints (which we made last the whole evening) as we worshipped the guitar. I could soon finger-pick with the best of them and blew all my savings on a wonderful instrument which cost me seven pounds and bore the label ‘Hi Spot, Foreign’. This was, of course, a marked contrast to Sundays where hymns and dreadful ‘choruses’ made me cringe with embarrassment. (Whoever penned the immortal lines ‘We’re in the great race to put rockets in space, but the needs of our souls we’re refusing to face’ should, in my humble opinion, be made to eat their own toenails. Some of the ‘choruses’ I’ve heard recently are little better.) There was no way I could take my White Horse friends to church. And so my life developed in two parallel universes whose paths never intersected.

Continue reading “Art for art’s sake”