Saturday, 31 August 2013

This is my job, that is not.

One of the most exceptional session at greenbelt this year was Milton Jones (@themiltonjones). There was one thing he said - and explored around at other points - that has really stuck with me.

I should point out that he was also very funny. I know that I appreciate his sense of humour,but his delivery is just exceptional, and even when I knew what was coming, it was still perfectly done. This also applies to material from his books, which he read out - I have read one of his books, and while it was very good, I felt it lacked some of his flare. However hearing him read it out brought the quotes to life.

However, the point he made was that his job is to be a comedian. His role and work as a Christian is to be a comedian and to express his faith through his job. That does not mean he only has to make "Christian" jokes, it means that he needs to express his faith within his work - and we may not see that. It may be that his faith expression is about his working attitude and environment, about his relationship with other comedians.

What it doesn't mean, as he made clear, was that he should do "Church Entertainment" evenings. In fact, as he points out, he never does "church" events, because that is not his job. He is not an evangelist, or a preacher, just because he is a "celebrity", and is experienced with standing up and talking to people.

I would push this a little more, and say that the job of a Christian is in whatever position they are in. It is not to support or sustain the church. That does not mean that they shouldn't, just that this is not the place that we should consider the primary expression of our faith.

Our job as a Christian is not to support the church. Our job is to be a person of faith in whatever work we have to do, or whatever role we have. We have to be a person of faith in our other life as well, and it is important to have life outside work (and church).

This means that, if you are clergy, your "job" is then to do the clerical work, managing the church, but that is not the definition of being a Christian for you. The Christian calling here is to actually be a Christian in that job, and to express your faith in the area you are in. That is not necessarily easy, but then, nobody said it would be easy.

There is something more in this: it means that we all have a job or a role. A job of "vicar" is no better - or fundamentally different - from a role of "refuse collection agent", or anything else. There are no spiritual jobs, the calling of all people is to express their faith within their jobs. If you want to find your calling, then start by being a Christian in the role and work that you already have. Then stop, because you have probably found your calling.

Friday, 30 August 2013


Yesterday, David Cameron lost a vote in parliament to take military action in Syria. Aside from the pleasure in him getting defeated, I think this is a good decision, but a very difficult one.

One the one hand, the fact that I oppose military action is NOT because I think what is happening in Syria is trivial and minor. The increasing violence is appalling, the use of chemical weapons in clear breach of international agreements is a disgrace. To oppose military action does not mean support of the regimes  actions.

Action is needed of some sort, although exactly what I do not know - I am not an expert of the situation or the politics or options. Assad needs to be stopped in his assaults on his own people, and the region needs to return to the uneasy peace that is more normal for the area. To argue that those who oppose military action do not care about the violence, or support Assad, is naive in the least, and offensive in the main.

What is means is that people oppose military action in Syria. No more and no less. What it means is that people are fed up with interfering in other sovereign states, assuming that the only solution to violence is more violence. What is more, people are tired of the politicising of war.

The other hand is that action - critical action - is needed to change the situation. Claiming that we abhor the violent actions of others, and yet our response is itself violent is not giving the right message.

I do not doubt that other nations - the USA in particular - will still consider taking action. I think they are mistaken, but I am also glad that my democratically elected leaders have made a decision in line with what I believe the majority of the opinion in the UK think. That is the democratic process in action.

David Cameron seems to find the democratic process a problem. What he needs to do is work to find a different approach and resolution to the problems. Not to ignore them, but not to assume that the options are "bomb them" and "ignore them". There are other options.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Gut reactions

This post has caused a whole lot of responses in my timelines, mainly from people who seem to find a desire to gag at this whole idea. To summarise, the argument is that we should trust our gag reflex and the fact that we find gay sex "yukky" should be a clear indication to us that it is wrong, and that it is against Gods word.

I have to say, irrespective of your position on homosexuality, I think this is an appalling piece of writing and justification of a particular position. I want to explore why for me it is so poorly argued.

Firstly, the core argument that "this is yukky, so it must be sinful" is really poor theology. The reason is that "normal", heterosexual sex is pretty yukky. pre-teen kids are still, often, feeling that the opposite gender is "yukky", and, if you were to start discussing sexual activity with them, they tend to be "yukked-out". So surely this mean that all sex is sinful and against Gods laws? Ah no, of course, it is only certain peoples "yuk" reflexes that are divinely inspired - the conservatives, the traditionalists.

So secondly, the problem is that historically, all sorts of things have been considered "yukky". Women taking any place in society was once considered "yukky", so should we deny women the vote, the right to own property, the right to self-determination? At one time, the idea of coloured people being considered as equals would have been "yukky", so should we roll back the racial equality advances of the last 50+ years? Sadly, the answer from some of these people is yes, although they might not express it so. In fact, some of the conservatives would seem to want to roll back the whole of society by at least this amount.

That is a problem, because as a society, we have moved on - there is no "halcyon days" to hark back to, there is no point in our history where the imagined Christian society actually existed. Let me be clear about this - throughout our history, there have been people campaigning for various injustices, and there have been significant parts of society where what we consider today to be "Christian" were not observed.

Thirdly, and this is the core problem, our "yukky" responses, our gut reactions to ideas and events should not be a driver of our theology, because God does not inhabit our intestines. The thing is, a lot of the events of the book of Joshua especially - there are other examples, but the genocide and slaughter in Joshua is a prime example - make me feel "yuk". Should we therefore disregard these passages? The answer is no - we cannot disregard bible passages because they are difficult, and we cannot reject homosexual practices because we don't like them.

I can accept that the writer of this article does not like homosexual practice, does not feel that it is biblical, and finds homosexual activity "yukky". I have no problems with this, however much I may disagree with him. The problem is to argue that his gut reaction is an indicator of divine approval is wrong and misleading. That is bad theology.

Thursday, 15 August 2013


At the moment I tend to drive to work - it has been the M25, and is currently the M1. There is something that really frustrates me while I drive up and down, and I think there is a parallel in this.

The problem is with people who insist on driving in the outside lane, too slowly, leaving a large gap in front of them. While there are other behind who want to pass. And yes, I often mean those who are driving at exactly the speed limit, when I want to drive faster.

I realise there are some who will say "well, drive at the limit youreself, and leave plenty of room. Be a good boy." However, I am not one who particularly likes sticking to the rules. In any area of life. I do not drive stupidly, or recklessly, but I often drive too fast. I see people around me driving far more insanely than I ever would. And this is not about "obeying the law", but about behaving respectably to others.

Oh, and if everyone were to drive within the limit, and with a large gap, the road system would collapse, because the capacity of the road network would be significantly reduced. Bear in mind, I am talking about peak times, when the network is at its busiest, and is already cracking under the strain. What is more, expecting people to be perfect, when they are traveling to or from work, is too much - people are tired, low-sugar, low-caffeine, and not really wanting to be there. Expecting people to be better than their best when they are at a low is to abuse them.

The real problem is that people who drive this way are often advocating that they are trying to be "safe" by driving in this way. That is admirable, but untrue, because the effects of driving like this is to frustrate people behind them, and often force them to pass on the inside - a perfectly legal but risky manoeuvre, that I do occasionally do. When I do it, I should point out, there needs to be plenty of room,  meaning that there is easily enough space for the person to have pulled into the inner lane.

I have no problems with people who want to drive slowly, or with large gaps. I have a problem with people who drive in the wrong lane, and cause problems for other people. It is just about politeness, because the polite thing to do is to let other people pass, if it is safe to do so.

There seems to be a parallel here with the way the church so often behaves. They are also very often slow and cautious, and argue that this is for the sake of safety. "We have to take this carefully, and consider all of the implications" we hear. "We need to find some solution that satisfied everyone" they say. And I think of the people driving slowly, safely, cautiously in the outside lane, and wish they would move over to where they are more suited.

If the church wants to be in the fast lane of society, the place that most people under the age of 40 live, then they need to take a few risks, be less cautious, push a little. The debacle in the Church of England over women bishops - the continued impression that the church gives of valuing the positions of those who oppose women gaining equality over the rights of women - puts them in the slow lane of the motorway. I prefer the fast lane, and will stay there passing the church on the inside if necessary. I would rather they admitted that they are no longer fast-lane players, and let those who are get on with it.

Otherwise they will just irritate people. Even more.

Monday, 12 August 2013


I think that nudity is an interesting subject, and a challenge for many people. And something that the church seems to have a problem with - maybe it is because church people like to dress up, not undress.

The thing is, attitudes to nudity seem to be generationally divided. Young children growing up today will mostly have seen a naked person by the age of 16 - either on TV, or on the internet. I am not saying that I agree with this or approve of this level of nudity, but this is the reality. In my time, a generation or more earlier, this was less likely to be the case. We might have seen some porn mags, but may not, and it is quite possible to hit that age without having seen a naked person.

This generational divide is also reflected very much in the churches approach to nudity, and the rather Victorian, Puritan approach to nudity, because of its association with sexuality - something that the church also has a major hang-up about. Nudity leads to sex, and so must be avoided at all costs.

This seems to be the real problem with nudity. The truth is, when shown not gratuitously but appropriately, it is not a problem. There is something to be said for a celebration of the beauty of the human body, and for an appropriate presentation of this in stories where it is relevant. The truth is, people are sometimes naked, and if that is appropriate, it is more honest to show this than to hide it.

Of course, the real issue is sex, and the fact that a naked body might arouse sexual feelings in the viewers. Therefore it is a Bad Thing. The truth is that sex is a good thing, something to be celebrated, enjoyed, reveled in even. The churches obsession with denying sexuality is damaging to everyone - not least clergy who are expected to remain celibate, whether that is a choice they would otherwise make or not. It is also damaging when a Victorian sense of sexual purity is imposed on couples in the church. The problems with homosexuality are - to an extent - about a sexual prudity.

I should point out that some churches are not so bad. As always, what I am talking about is the perceived teaching of the churches, as a whole. There are places that stand against the tide - and all power to them.

I should also point out that abusive pictures, pornographic images, images that are air-brushed to present an impossible figure to aspire to - there are issues with all of these. The problem here is not nudity, it is the abuse and exploitation of people. That is always wrong. But these are issues that need to be addressed without starting from the position that Nudity Is Always Bad. Mainly because these issues are also present without the nudity.

Nudity - appropriately done - is a real celebration of the human body. That is something that is great to celebrate.

Saturday, 3 August 2013


I have been watching this much-publicised (hyped) series on Lovefilm, and it does raise some interesting challenges - not least on the subject of a recent blog about sacrifice, because where someone was prepared to sacrifice in that context, it usually meant a slit throat. I should point out that the series is not for the faint-hearted - there is blood and guts, and nudity, all of which is, I should point out, in context, because it was a bloody and earth way of living.

One of the challenges was distinguishing the lead in Vikings - Ragnar - from the lead in Sons of Anarchy - Jax. They look remarkably similar, an behave remarkably similar too. More of this later.

What really strikes me, and is one of the underlying themes, is the exploration of faith or religion or belief. Without giving too much away, there is a constant exploration of the importance of the belief systems of the Vikings (Norse mythological system) and the British (Christian). These clashed, because there was a fundamental paradigm difference between them. The thing that I found interesting was that this was largely presented from the Norse perspective, not the more usual Christian one - that is, the starting point was the Norse belief, which the Christian belief system was then introduced to.

The really interesting thing was that the Norse belief system had a completely different attitude to life and death - especially death. Human sacrifice was a part of their system, and death in battle was an honourable death, the way that they wanted to die. At home in bed was the death of a failure. In truth, the Vikings did not fear death, because they actually believed the things they said, and that death and arrival in Valhalla was something to be sought, longed for.

Of course, the Christian belief adds to this the importance of living here on earth to the betterment of others. Life here is also important, but maybe the Vikings acceptance of death as a positive is something to be learnt from. Now I am not suggesting that human sacrifice is something to re-introduce, but, in one episode, the acceptance of sacrificing your life for others was clearly shown, and this was not seen as a negative, but as a great achievement.

The similarity between Ragnar and Jax was, to me, a way of bringing this up to date, a similarity that enabled the ideas to be also thought of in a modern context. Jax is the leader of a group who live by their own rules, who are prepared to kill and die, and who understand the gritty reality that death happens, and sometimes ensuring that someone else dies is the best way of protecting your own. I wouldn't suggest or promote SAMCRO as the ideal model for Christians, but the sense of identifying that other people are important, and fighting for them at all cost, is maybe something to accept.

The thing is, the Norse theology and the SAMCRO "theology" are both consistent and valid. Maybe not complete, but they are perspectives that are worth drawing from, understanding what is important - really important - and putting that at the top of the priorities list. They also serve, I think, to show that when you examine a different theological (or philosophical) perspective, you can see the downsides. It is much harder to see this with the perspective that you embrace, but Christianity also has its downsides. In truth, it is not entirely compatible with, say, a middle-class, western, capitalist philosophy.