Monthly Archives: February 2014

Institutional church – an analogy

On Wednesday, this question was posed on Twitter:

The following exchange was:

This got me thinking.

I’m happy for an institution to exist which supports the church, but I would hesitate to regard the two as equal. In the early church, when the apostles started to find their work hindered they delegated responsibility. The seed was sown for an organisation to help the body.

I view it as one might scaffolding. It can be a bit ugly, certainly not as beautiful as the building beneath. This can put people off; though they may glimpse something of what is within, it’s often masked by steel, or plastic that flaps in the wind. It’s firmly attached to the building, but it is not the building. It’s sometimes staffed (manned?) by those who occasionally shout at one another, or give unhelpful comments to those passing by.

With a large church, it’s an unfortunate necessity, borne not out of theological imperative, but of practical need.

Some churches may try to be inside-out, giving a beautiful presentation to the outside world, only for some to be bitterly disappointed when they enter, finding building works going on indoors.

Picture by Peter Broster, used under creative commons license

Picture by Peter Broster, used under creative commons license

All analogies, have their failings, as does this. But might this ring a little true in your experience? I’m just musing here.

God and Jesus and a question of gender


I am sitting down to write this on the evening of Monday the 24th of February. Earlier today, @helen_a13 posed a question on Twitter.

“I get ‘God’ and ‘Jesus’ confused sometimes. Totally get Jesus was male. But often ‘father’ is used so is that referring to Jesus or God?”

I am here only going to respond with a few thoughts. As @richardclarkson sagely pointed out, “I suspect it’s the kind of thing that either needs 140 characters or 1400 pages to do it justice.” So here I cannot pretend to give a satisfactory answer. Where I hope to shed a little light, I acknowledge that additional shadows may be formed. Others may choose different emphases and scriptures to look at. Much more of this may be dealt with as I continue my ‘A Personal Catechism‘ which is going far slower than I had hoped for, even though my initial plan was to spend 3 years on it.

Attempting to answer an ancient question

From the outset, it has to be said it’s a fantastic question and one that has been asked in various forms for centuries. It’s of particular interest to me as it sort of coincides with some reading I’ve been doing recently (in Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God) and it also taps into something I have been meaning to make explicit on this blog for some time.

Another form the question has been asked in is, “Was Jesus divine?” or “What does it mean for God to be referred to as ‘Son of God’ or ‘Son of Man’?” It is the differing answers to these questions that gave rise to, for example, the term in the Nicene Creed, “one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God…begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father” – here I would remind readers of my view of the creeds as products of the disputes of their time, not as normative statements which define christianity. That is not to denigrate the creed or falsify it.

Indeed, referring to Jesus as ‘Son’ may be found in several scriptures, but I would choose to highlight the narratives of his baptism (“And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased“, Matt 3:17, NRSV – see also Luke 3:21) and transfiguration (“Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!'”, Mark 9:7, NRSV). In these cases, we note the word translated as ‘Beloved’ is the Greek agapetos, which my concordance fleshes out as: dearly loved one, the object of special affection and of special relationship. A footnote in the Luke passage reads: “Other ancient authorities read You are my Son, today I have begotten you. This latter note makes explicit an allusion that could have been read in the other passages: Psalm 2.

Here, we have a poem which states “I will tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to me, ‘You are my son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me and I will make the nations you heritage…” – just prior to this is a statement about setting a king on Zion. So when we read these declarations of Jesus as a begotten Son, this is not meant to say that he is the offspring of God. The term begotten is not meant to denote a genealogical relationship; it is a metaphor for being specially designated. But designated as what? As the king who sits on Zion. This identifies Jesus firmly within the royal line of David.

We might also note Peter’s confession whereby he says to Jesus, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” (Matthew 16:16, NRSV). And who revealed this to Peter? Jesus answers, “…flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.”

So we cannot escape the notion of a father-son relationship. It’s then a question of how we interpret this.

Yet none of this in and of itself points to Jesus actually being God. As mentioned above, a form of Helen’s question that has been posed before is, “Was Jesus divine?” Yet, and with further apologies to Wright for following his line of thought, this seems to be slightly the wrong question. It’s not that it’s a bad question, but it’s not the question that pressed the early church. Rather, what they were asking was, “Who was Jesus?” The shocking answer that Jesus was one and the same as God that was developed in the decades after Jesus’ resurrection.

This can be seen in, for example, Paul’s poem in Philippians 2:1-11. At the end of this, we see the attribution “Jesus Christ is Lord”. The word translated as ‘Lord’ here is the Greek kyrios. This is also used as a euphemism to translate YHWH, or the name of God, in Greek translations of the Old Testament. So to label Jesus as ‘Lord’ is to declare that he is God.

This is made most explicit in in 1 Corinthians 8:6 where Paul writes: “yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” This is not a statement which says, “[there is God, and now in addition to this we have a new figure.]” This is a reworking of the Jewish Shema, a statement of monotheism, “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one”. It is putting Jesus at the heart of this new form of modified/fulfilled Judaism which eventually became known as christianity.

This gets us as far as binitarianism: the idea that Jesus is God. For a full-blown trinitarianism, we’d need to look at the person of the Holy Spirit, but I haven’t the time or space here for that. Of course, as soon as you answer in a way such as this, lots more questions spring up. For example, one could take the lead from Jürgen Moltmann and ask, “If Jesus is God, then doesn’t that mean that God died?” as asked in The Crucified God.

Returning to the question

With that rather lengthy preamble, we return to the original question Helen asked earlier.

“I get ‘God’ and ‘Jesus’ confused sometimes. Totally get Jesus was male. But often ‘father’ is used so is that referring to Jesus or God?”

I would refer to God as being the whole of the trinity, which are referred to as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Some would use the term God to denote the “personality” of God the Father. Though each of these terms represent failures in our language. I wouldn’t take “God the Father” to mean that he is Jesus’ daddy. It is an honorific, meant to denote a kind of relationship. The title Son is also an honorific, but in this case denoting kingship.

Where we get into difficulty is using the term ‘father’ where such a word may, due to bad experience, carry negative connotations. I discovered this in my late teens when I worked with younger teens and I remember one of them asking me, “How can God be a good father? Father is the person who hits mum and makes her cry.” In such circumstances, I am in favour of adapting our language to suit the sensibilities (and sensitivities) of those we are talking to.

Addendum: A note on the style of this blog

As referred to above, there was an aspect of this blog which has thus far been demonstrated, but not stated explicitly. Regular readers may have noticed that I will often refer to God as ‘It’. Why use an impersonal pronoun? Again, our language is somewhat deficient. While I would like to be able to use a gender-neutral pronoun that is not impersonal, the English language simply doesn’t have one. Using ‘It’ for God tries to avoid designating a gender role. The stereotype (as aided by some of the language in the bible) is to refer to God generally via male pronouns. While there may be some uses for this, not least in thinking of God as a “person” (if not human) then some kind of gender specification may enforce this. After all, one may tend to think of something as having a personality if it has a gender. One might think in terms of the animal kingdom or even of the tendency to refer to ships using female pronouns (“all who sail in her”). Using “It” may offend some, but my aim is not to offend, merely to ask you think afresh. If we grow too accustomed to reading about God in anthropomorphic terms, then we risk entrenching ourselves in a wrong view.

Wanted: Volunteer for a tradition swap

Those of you who are regular listeners to Justin Brierley’s Saturday afternoon radio show, Unbelievable, will have listened recently to an experiment which two friends took part in as part of a “faith swap”. An atheist tried to live as a christian for a month and a christian tried to live as an atheist. It was quite interesting to listen to and worth having a read about. But it gave me an idea.

Instead of swapping religions (or the lack thereof), I had the idea of swapping traditions within christianity. I make no bones about the fact that I am non-conformist. I have started a long project on stating my beliefs, based around the Q&A format of the Heidelberg catechism, so you may get some idea of what I mean by non-conformism there, or you may wish to look at a series I wrote a while back entitled ‘A nonconformist point of view’ where I wrote about saints, priests and church structure. Please note that there are two different, but common, uses of the term ‘nonconformist’ – when I use it I mean christian but not part of one of the major institutional denominations. Others would use it to mean christian but not anglican. So some would regard those belonging to the methodist church or united reformed to be nonconformist – I don’t, so would be happy to potentially swap with someone from one of those churches.

I would be looking to swap for a more conservative expression of christianity for a period of time. My idea is to do this for the 40+ days of lent (having learnt last year that Sundays don’t count – which may itself give you a clue about my mindset). For that period, I would take hints and tips from the swappee about what it is a conformist should do. For example, I don’t have a copy of a lectionary, so don’t know what scriptures I’m supposed to read on what day, what colours one is supposed to wear (or be prohibited from wearing!) on any given day. Equally, I would be willing to help the swappee with any queries they have about a more liberal expression of the christian faith.

I’m not suggesting that we abandon our churches for the duration of the experiment. If the swappee is in London (my church meets in the borough of Lewisham) then I would want for me to be able to visit their church one Sunday and for them to visit to mine one Sunday.

Who is this for?

It’s for someone who wants to understand a bit more about different expressions of faith. If anything, that’s the key point. While there may be some difference in the finer points of theology between different churches, I’m not asking someone to change their beliefs, just to experience a different expression. I think of it as trying to persuade a vegetarian who loves fruit, to try some fruit they are unfamiliar with, not to ask them to eat meat.

I’d also like a blogger, so we can at least share what we each learn, what we find challenging and any other relevant thoughts to the swap.

Who is this not for?

First of all, there should be a reasonable difference between our regular expressions of christianity. So I would not be looking to swap with anyone who describes themself as charismatic, pentecostal, baptist, nonconformist, evangelical or use other such “low church” adjectives.

Secondly, I am not looking to try to change anyone’s tradition or destroy their faith. As such, anyone who is so engrained in one tradition and has no experience of churches or denominations other their own that they might their faith shaken is someone who shouldn’t take such a big leap out of their comfort zone at one time.

If you have particular duties in your church such that this would clash or majorly distract you from those, then it’s best not to. This almost certainly rules all the vicars who read this blog.

A final thought

I guess the idea has been mulling around in my head for a couple of years now, even before the faith swap featured on Unbelievable. The quote I have in mind is this, taken from a Veritas forum:

“Take Jack here and Jill there. Jack has come from a traditional anglo-catholic family where he knows exactly how to swing incense and precisely what each bit of the liturgy means. Then he meets somebody in college who talks about praying as though you can actually chat to God in your own words. He just didn’t know you could do that. It completely blows him away; he’s so excited that he goes away and joins in with people doing it. It’s just amazing.Meanwhile Jill who has come from a charismatic church and has been raising her arms in the air and singing happy choruses since she was “this” high [holds hand about waist level], is really completely freaked out by that stuff. And then one day drifts in and sits at the back for a traditional Anglican liturgy: a eucharist or something. She just senses the space and the power and the proportions and the deeper meaning of that. And I used to watch Jack and Jill (metaphorically) and I would say ‘I hope they at least wave at each other as they go by.’”

So as we pass by for a short season, let’s shake hands, have a cup of coffee and chat for a bit.

You up for it?

Book Review: The Peaceable Kingdom by Stanley Hauerwas

Having read Hauerwas’ autobiography last year and declared it to be one of my books of the year, I was keen to read more of what he wrote. The two stand-out books that seemed to define his theological thinking were Resident Aliens and The Peaceable Kingdom.  Subtitled A Primer in Christian Ethics, I understood this to be his exposition of pacifist theology.

From the start, it struck me that this was quite a “dense” book. Though it’s not incredibly long, it is tightly argued and quite technical in places, where I admit I didn’t quite understand the detail of his argument, and in some places even the general direction of the argument was lost on me. This is largely because I have never formally studied moral philosophy. Though I have thought about it, and even written about it some time ago in a series of blog posts I have yet to finish, I am certainly no expert, as Hauerwas clearly is.

Some of the confusion may come about because at times Hauerwas conflates, or at least uses interchangeably, the terms ‘morals’ and ‘ethics’ whereas I see the former as foundational (the bricks) and the latter as what is constructed from them (the house). The opening part of the book is very one of moral philosophy rather than theology. His opening contention is that ethics cannot stand on its own, but must be defined within a specified paradigm, in this case the paradigm of christian ethics. In this respect, it is most certainly not a book of apologetics. His discussion of ‘qualified ethic’ and of the nature of ‘agency’ rather passed me by, so I cannot comment much on this.

As he eventually gets into a theological discussion, he seems to show a slightly Bultmannian viewpoint that we can’t really know anything about Jesus, but that the New Testament, and the gospels in particular, are solely reflective of the early church’s view, though contradictorily, he also places emphasis on the church’s declaration of the death and resurrection.

Crucial to his argument is the notion that the Church should not necessarily adopt a social ethic, but that it should be a social ethic in and of itself. This he sees as a fulfilment of the primary role of the Church, which is simply to be the Church.

The whole book is littered with quotable vignettes, which I very much enjoyed and largely agreed with. They shouldn’t, however, be taken out of context of this very tightly argued thesis. In this respect, it reminded me quite a lot of the structure of Moltmann’s The Crucified God. So if you found that accessible, this should be no problem. If, however, you struggled at times with that, then do expect to find this a little bit stodgy in places.

Hauerwas has set out here to give his own view, rather than an overview of lots of different areas of christian ethics. As such, there are a limited number of other voices that are heard, most notably those of John Howard Yoder and the Niebuhr brothers. The culmination of the book looks at these latter two and how they differed in nonviolent reaction to a provocative situation. The background to this is that Hauerwas proposes, rightly in my view, that ethics is not a case of “what to do if…?” but that it is a whole way of being which guides in every day mundaneness as well as the edges of human experience.

Hauerwas proposes that in choosing nonviolence in the face of violence, that there are different kinds of pacifism. He calls for a patient kind whereby, nomatter how impatient we may be, or feel ourselves to the victims of injustice, we should not seek justice by violent means. Rather that recognition of God as Lord of the world, we should wait for divine justice.

For me, I struggled with this. I know Hauerwas is a great admirer of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but here he veers away from Bonhoeffer’s idea that inaction in the face of evil is itself evil. One other point that struck me was Hauerwas’ take on the language used in human rights, that we ask all people to conform to a minimum level of behaviour in respecting the rights of others, but that implicit in that is a threat of violence against those who would choose to violate the human rights of others. In which case, just how humane are the enforcers of the human rights?

It’s certainly food for thought, and though I would largely agree with the drift of the book, some parts of his reasoning were not clear to me and other bits of reasoning I might disagree with in their precise details. There is little here by way of direct confrontation with the ideas of ‘just war’ – rather, this is an alternative proposal. So if you are a ‘just war’ proponent and want to read Hauerwas attempt to counter such a viewpoint, this is not the book for you. But if you want to read one theologian’s thoughts on a nonviolent, just and thoroughly ecclesiological ethic, then this is the right book to read.

The standard Valentine’s Day blog post by a 30-year old single christian man

So it’s Valentine’s day again. You’ve seen the title of the blog post and I wonder why you’re reading this. Is it out of some sense of pity for this oddball social pariah? Is the title a good bit of click baiting? Do you come armed with helpful advice or words of comfort? Do you want to gain an insight into how someone else lives, whose life seems so different from your own? Only you know why you chose to read this; but are you honest enough with yourself to state that reason?

Truth be told, it’s been nearly 8 years since I last went on a date. If such a thing were to ever happen again, I honestly wouldn’t know what to do. I’m sure the world of dating has moved on since then, not least the fact that the world of dating as a working professional is very different from dating as an undergraduate student. It’s simply not a world I inhabit. It’s something Other People do. Other People drive cars. Other People go on holiday every year. We all live in our own different worlds; sometimes they overlap in places. But these are worlds which I do not inhabit. I’m in the world where the working day is 7:30-7:30 including commuting, where I read a variety of books.

The relative paucity of dates is not necessarily indicative of a paucity of friendships, even close friendships. There have been a few over the years who have broken my heart, though it has been nearly a year since the last. She took a few months and a change of home to get over, but one moves on.

The fact is, someone whose “record” is as sparse as mine is unusual for someone my age in this society. I choose to look at it as though the few who have ever dated me are part of a group whose membership is more specialised than the group of people who have set foot on the moon. At times one can question “why?” But the answers aren’t great, if I’m honest with myself. The fact is, I have nothing to offer. I’m not good looking, not exceptionally rich, have no time and am a terrible conversationalist.

We each have to learn who we are. Once we do that, we can either fight against it or learn to accept it. While there are some bits I try to change, I’m mostly at peace with who I am and what I’m about. The things I like, such as reading, writing and hiking are best done alone. Some people can’t face that kind of lifestyle. As if being surrounded by people all day isn’t bad enough, I look forward to the relative peace and quiet of evenings and weekends. While there may, in theory, be room for someone else, it just doesn’t work in practicality.

As I get older, more and more people seem to accept that and I don’t get hassled like I did when I was in my 20s saying I ought to get married or at least go some way towards that. Looking at those younger than me, it makes me a little sad to see so many have their hopes pinned on some vague hope of marrying and having kids, as though they were an end to be aimed for that will solve all their problems. Yes, they may solve some, but they bring with themselves their own problems and stresses. And let’s not get hung up on who has the easier life; it’s a pointless argument of onedownsmanship, like the 4 Yorkshiremen sketch.

From the specific point of view of being a christian, it is especially sad to see such a lack of acceptance of one’s identity and wishing for it to be found in someone else. My identity is found as me, being a part of a global Church, entwined with the living God through the person of Jesus of Nazareth. When you think about it, it’s pretty amazing. To then say, “that’s not enough for me” seems to me as though someone hasn’t quite got it. Yes, human relationships can be fantastic as an addition to the relationship described above (but be careful about the r word, I’m not advocating the ‘Jesus is my boyfriend’ expression of the term – I’m more an advocate of the ecclesial-judicial use of the word) but we need to get a bit perspective to sort out what order things ought to be prioritised in.  You may disagree; you’re welcome to. That’s my plea over for those whose lifestyles aren’t radically different from mine. Sorry if that wasn’t relevant to your particular circumstances.

The plan for today is not to mope or complain. From my perspective, it’s like a national holiday in Argentina – a day of importance for some but of little relevance to me and those like me. I’ll go to work, do some food shopping afterwards, go home, cook dinner (for one, as always) and maybe watch a DVD or read a book. The same as any other Friday.

What about you?

Book Review: The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels

As promised at the end of my review of Eric Hobsbawm’s The Age of Revolution, I will be following up this year with more reading of some key communist themes. And what could be a better place to start than with the communist manifesto? One could argue that no document written in the last 200 years has had such a profound effect on the course of world history. If we limit it to political history, then that case may be strengthened.

Before even opening it, though, the reader will almost inevitably be faced with some kind of prejudice. Because of what almost any educated person will know about communism and its chequered past, one might come to this document seeking an affirmation of their political point of view. Others may come with a wholly critical attitude, determined to disagree with every aspect. I came to this expecting to disagree with some aspects and agree with others, though I expected to agree with more than I disagreed with.

I refer to it as a document as it is only 34 pages long, so whether you consider this a real book review is up to you. Proportionally, it probably has the highest ratio of words in the review to words in what is being reviewed.

Published in 1848, it is clear from the start that this was a statement of a communism that already existed, albeit as a spectre. Written also before Marx’s Capital (which I hope to read and review later this year), it comes at the end of the period covered by Hobsbawm in his Age of Revolution. It opens with an assertion about history: that “The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggles.” This is the foundational principle on which the communist manifesto is built.

What Marx & Engels then go on to do is to describe the two classes which exist in all societies, the ruling class, the bourgeois, and the working class, the proletariat.

The approach to history is one that I don’t agree with. While, if you think through various aspects of history, one could adopt this very black and white methodology, it will ultimately fall short of being a true and fair description. In the 60 or so years leading up the publication of the communist manifesto, this may have been more apparent, which almost certainly had some level of influence on Marx & Engels, but it seems unreasonable to rewrite all history in this binary narrative. Yet that is precisely what they propose: to state history in terms of the present.

One could possibly look at the English Civil War or the Peasants’ Revolt in these terms without going too far wrong. But what if we look at early church history? Does the preaching of the gospel by Peter and Paul, the riots and imprisonments they faced fit this narrative? If one could construct such a narrative it would be highly forced and miss vitally important features.

As it is stated, therefore, I cannot agree unreservedly with the opening premise. That’s not to say it is wholly worthless. Given the historical and political background out of the communist manifesto came, it does help to put on this particular pair of glasses to see the metanarrative of what was going on in western Europe at the time. This is the task that Hobsbawm undertook, though it must be added that he was rather more sophisticated than the writers of the manifesto.

The feeling I got all the way through was one of anger. Not anger on my part, but that it was the product of disillusioned minds. It seemed easy to imagine that it might be the product of an intelligent, literate, but ultimately misguided teenager.

The argument roughly runs as thus: the bourgeois have been the rulers of Europe and that in spite of some obvious progress that has been made, they ultimately cannot be trusted and that since there are only two classes (according to the definition) then it is time for the proletariat to assume control. How this is to be achieved is muddled. At times, references are made to democratic elections, as there is an assumption that since the working classes outnumber the bourgeois that winning an election is inevitable. At other times, most famously at the end, there is a call for violent revolution.

There are many flaws in this analysis, not least the belief in the homogeneity of the working classes. It is quite patronising, even, to presume that because the communists wish for the working class to rule (though who, precisely, is never stated) that there should be universal support for the communist manifesto.

In fact, to call it a manifesto is a bit generous. There are very few proposals in it. Though there is a short list of 10 demands. One could go into more detail for each of these, though I may do that in a separate blog post. Oddly, the one that shocked me the most was the 10th: “Free education in all public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production &c., &c.” I am not certain as to whether the term “public schools” meant ‘public’ in the terms of being open to all or whether, as is peculiar in British history (remembering that Marx and Engels were both informed by the politics of Britain) of using the term ‘public’ when what it is actually meant is ‘private’. Perhaps one of you can enlighten me on this issue. Either way, to have the idea of free education to be thought of as radical makes me think how far we have come.

There are several issues I have with the vision that Marx & Engels proposed. It seems to me to be unrealistically ideal. They seem to hark back to some kind of ‘golden age’ of full employment, with a strong emphasis on agriculture. Whether such an age existed is dubious, yet their view of history prevents a sober assessment. I am also not a proponent of the revolutionary aspects of their proposal, in particular the idea of wresting property by force.

Though I could not wholly endorse them, that does not mean that I then fall back onto a default position of opposition. The critiques of the middle classes and the control of capital are not groundless. Yet the views which I hold to are roughly described, and criticised, by Marx and Engels. They refer to it as bourgeois socialism, where the emphasis is not about seizing political control, but about the improvement of the conditions of the working classes through reform rather than revolution.

It doesn’t take long to read, but there is much to ponder here. On the basis of what I have read, I could not consider myself, or be reasonably considered by others, to be a communist. I object to the hardline nature of the document but do agree with some of the points made.

I’ll let you make of it what you will.

The profundity of silence

The other day, I was commuting through central London, when I alighted at one of the busiest tube stations on the network. As I got off, I noticed that it was remarkably quiet. Not that it wasn’t busy. It’s just that there was very little sound.

Hundreds of people got off the train within a few seconds of one another, but as there were a few seconds where there was no announcement, no train rumbling through a nearby tunnel. Yet there was also a lack of conversations. I couldn’t hear anyone talking, as I usually do. My thought was “this is quite profound.”

But why? I got to thinking through what it meant. Is there profundity in silence? The modern monastic in me said ‘yes’ but I couldn’t quite grasp why. And why silence in some places and not others.

Going against the teaching of my church, I am quite sceptical over the nature of “sacred spaces” or “holy places”. I hope to write more about it in the future, once I’ve done some reading into Celtic christianity. To outline briefly, though, we must think that most of the universe is silent. Even a supernova, one of the most violent events we know of doesn’t, as far as I am aware, make a sound. There’s no atmosphere for it to make a noise in. In this respect, noise is something quite unusual, possibly unique to planets with atmospheres.

So the idea of silence being inherently profound implies that almost everything is profound apart from the spaces we live in. Yet for something to be profound, or of value, I might copy an example from economics and suggest it should be rare. But if noise is rare in the universe and silence common, then silence cannot be profound.

So I concluded that silence itself is not what is profound; it is silence where one expects noise. What I had in the tube station was an abundance of people that collectively made no noise. In large religious gatherings, a moment of silence is something unnatural to our human tendency to make a noise, either as a by-product of our activity or as a means of communication.

What it implies is that there is something else going on. If you were to wander into a shopping centre and hear nothing, yet you can see thousands of people, you might well think something was going on, something hidden. Everyone else is on on a secret. Maybe you join in that silence to see if it will give you insight into that mystery. Then someone else comes in and observes you being silent, being still. They wonder what you know that they don’t that causes you to be silent.

There may be nothing at all, like the traffic jam with no accident, where everyone slowed down because the person in front did. It might be a cumulative silence built on nothing more than an idea. Or maybe there is a reason to it.

Silence then, in my view, is not profound in itself, but it may just point to something that is. Not all silence, not in all places, in all times. But maybe some silences do. To those, all we can do is listen to them. And wonder.

God loves a Tory

Inspiration for this post

Last week’s Theos report on the voting habits of christians, catholics and those of other faiths seemed to prompt a bit of comment. I haven’t witnessed a hornet’s nest, more the recognition of some uncomfortable truths. The headline that got the most attention was that the Church of England remains the Tory party at prayer.

From my perspective, the most interesting aspect was about the variability in nonconformist churches. I’ve written before a little about my political views and how they relate to my faith, but I want to take an alternative look at here.

Background to my thinking

To those who would claim that christianity is inherently apolitical, I would recommend reading through the New Testament after some reading literature about Roman culture in the first centuries BC & AD, playing a game of “spot the counter imperial rhetoric”.

To give something of an order of priorities, to me as a christian, Christ comes first. How we understand the person, teachings, life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth are paramount. We may use a variety of tools (variously coming the umbrella term ‘theology’, though some are identifiable by other names such as history or philosophy) to understand him, but this is the way to approach questions of faith and God. To drive straight at these topics without going via Jesus is like trying to walk through a brick wall while ignoring the door. This task is not individualistic, but is to be undertaken as a community, an ekklesia, a church. That is not to be corporatist, either; we each have our own responsibility, just as I have my particular duties within my company. I am not my company and could not possibly fulfill all its duties. I need the help of my colleagues.

Out of this understanding comes a revised worldview. This, to my understanding, is the sort of thing Paul refers to in Romans 12 where he speaks of the renewal of the mind. This worldview expresses itself a variety of ways. Amongst the many colours, shades, shapes and flavours this manifests itself, politics is one them. To try to remove politics from the worldview strikes me as artificial. It says “I will let this thing called christianity inform and potentially change my views on A, B and C, but not X, Y and Z”.

From this revised mindset we can then ask what kind of politics this entails. I have given a sketch of what this mindset looks like before. To summarise, I find the position I am in can broadly be described as left-wing. This statement must be understood carefully. I would not claim that christianity is inherently left wing or right wing. These are terms that came into our language from the French Revolution. To apply them retrospectively to Jesus and his early followers is anachronistic. What I do is find my worldview based on my best understanding of the relevant issues involved and then look at who my nearest neighbours are.

From political views to party politics

Of course, not everyone agrees with me. That much seems clear from the Theos report. But there is a factor missing here, which is the link between political views and political parties. While I describe myself as left-wing and have views on various topics that could be described similarly, it does not follow that that means I should wholly and unequivocally support a particular political party.

This was epitomised last week during a Twitter exchange with the organisation, Christians on the Left (formerly the Christian Socialists). I stated that I could not become a member because they are affiliated to the Labour party. Some take the view that it is better to be a part of a party with whom you disagree so that you can attempt to change it, others like that is idealistic and foolhardy, preferring to stand on your own principles rather than kowtow to the whims of the party leaders and whatever manifesto their spin doctors have produced. You won’t be surprised to read that I fall into the latter group. I will not be a member of a political party nor be a member of an organisation that has a close affiliation with a political party.

That doesn’t mean I abstain from voting for people who members of political parties. As I went some way to explaining before the referendum on the alternative vote system I am also a pragmatist and have voted tactically in the past. This has led, in the past, to me voting for Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and independent candidates, at one election or another. Ideally, I would like to be able to vote for individual local representatives, based on their own policies and ideas as well as to vote for cabinet members who, having met a requirement for suitable experience (e.g. an education secretary who has worked in a school or a health secretary who has worked as a doctor or a nurse). That’s my kind of idealism, but I don’t think it will happen in my lifetime.

For now, I settle with trying to make the best of bad system. Though it may surprise some, I bite my tongue a lot when it comes to political matters. No more so than in the office where I am surrounded by conservatives (indeed Conservatives) who views sicken me. But this is not the place to moan about my workmates.

The main point

So, with that slightly lengthy preamble over, what of the title of this piece? If I find the values of individualism and greed which lie at the heart of what it means to be a right-winger to be an anathema to my christian beliefs, why am I happy to worship alongside conservatives?

It is because of the order of things referred to above. First and foremost, the ecclesiology I hold to is one of inclusiveness and unity. We are to be one Church abiding in Jesus Christ. Everything else comes second. We may disagree about some of the consequences of what it means to be a christian, but so long as we are looking at the same Jesus, then we can stand side by side.

It is because of this that I am happy to worship alongside conservatives, creationists, homophobes, misogynists and any other type of person who holds views contrary to me own. Yes, I think they are all wrong and would dearly love them to think through their views, but that should not be an obstacle to fellowship. Yes, it may cause difficulties and make us all assess what the tone should be that we use when univocally declare the gospel of the coming of kingdom of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, but that doesn’t mean we should stay silent on the matter until we agree on every secondary or tertiary matter.

Unity in the Church (including cooperation and shared fellowship between churches) is something I have, in recent months, come to prioritise more than I have done before.

To look at it the other way round, imagine if churches were not welcoming to those who disagreed with one or two points of emphasis. We would end up shutting people out. The first people I want in churches are sinners, a category in which I include myself. Just as I may view conservatives as the “weaker brother” I know they probably view me similarly, thinking that my left-wing ideas of caring for people are immature or naive.

If we are to understand that the CofE leadership is broadly liberal, then having a conservative membership may actually speak to the leadership’s credit. If they have fostered an environment where any and all feel welcome, then that is something to be commended. I might not agree with someone’s voting patterns, and I am glad I live in a country where I can say so. OK, the Tories may have just pushed through a gagging law preventing religious organisations and other charities from criticising their policies, which is rather worrying. However, as that was not part of their manifesto or the coalition agreement, those who voted for the Tories last time cannot really be held responsible for the passing of such a draconian measure.

We can have our discussions over party politics, over matters of socio-economic policy and I think it’s fine in the short term for us to disagree over how the gospel impacts those. But when it comes to church, let us put aside those differences and worship the risen and living God together.

Should I buy a flat screen tv?

In the last few weeks, maybe a couple of months, the volume on my tv has been on the blink. The remote control works only sporadically (it works fine for other functions) and the control panel on the side of the screen sometimes changes the volume, sometimes the channel. It seems as though the wires are crossed at times.

The tv itself is about 10 years old. My sister and brother-in-law had it originally, but I bought it off them some years back when they upgraded their tv. As things stand at the moment, I don’t need a tv. In fact no one needs one; they are a luxury item that we in the decadent west have in many of our homes.

There is no question of affordability. One can get quite a good model for around £200 these days. The way I organise my finances, I have an account that is called “treat” which I put a bit into each month and buys a few luxuries. For example, last year I had a holiday. That was my third in 13 years. I haven’t got enough for a holiday yet but I have got more than enough for a new tv. It would be nice to have a flat screen (the current one is a cathode-ray Sony Trinitron wide, which takes two people a lot of effort to lift!) and at present it seems like an expense that one could at least rationalise.

My worry is this: what if I become unemployed? Readers who have kept tabs on this blog for the last 2 years will know that I got made redundant in 2012. That could happen again. I don’t know that it will, but there have been some changes in the company I work for over the last few months. It’s not unthinkable that a corporate shake-up could result in me being out of a job. Or I could become ill. I am very thankful that I have good health and have only had need to take 2 sick days off work in the last 7.5 years. One never knows when one might have an accident that puts them out of work, or be diagnosed with some debilitating condition.

It’s not that I would suddenly be unable to pay for a new tv since I would have bought it whilst employed, but if our tabloid press government and its parroting acolytes are to be believed, then there are fewer evils that are more symptomatic of a dysfunctional society than an unemployed person in possession of a flat screen tv.

The fact that hundreds of thousands of people have been driven to use foodbanks over the last few years is, of course, not a problem at all. After all, Iain Duncan Smith must have the best interests of the poorest and most vulnerable in society at heart. The fact that I spent 6 months unemployed in 2012, filling my days with job applications, interview preparations and travelling to and from interviews where each job had anywhere from 6 to 30 applicants going for it, was merely a side effect of my own laziness and unwillingness to work. At least, that’s what I am to believe if I accept the coalition’s rhetoric.

The same goes for all those who are now in the shoes I once wore. When Esther McVey told people to get a job at Costa, of course she knew full well that over 1,600 people had applied for just 8 jobs. Those that didn’t find employment will soon realise that the reason for that is because they are workshy freeloaders, not willing to obey the simple imperative to “get a job” since that simple command is, naturally, capable of being followed without the need for intervention or a decision being made by any person other than the jobseeker. After all, employers have no choice but to accept all applications from anyone who wants a job enough.

Don’t they?