Thinking Faith blogs

RB goes to Oz again

Today I am flying out to Sydney and will be speaking at two conferences organised by Christian Education National in New South Wales and also in Canberra. The one near Sydney will be attended by about 500 Christian teachers and I will be talking about my approach to storytelling and the calling of the Christian educator.

There are no crocodiles in this part of Oz which is a shame.

It's a great honour to be asked back to Australia and I hope RB will be a blessing to them 'downunder'.

How We Became Enlightened

Good evening and welcome to my lecture. For those who lack knowledge my name is Professor Singen Smedley and I am a vastly erudite and important scholar.

This evening I will be lecturing you on the topic – how we became enlightened.

Many years ago western people were not enlightened. They were in thrall to superstitious beliefs about God and the gods. Tragically our ancestors lacked a scientific and technological mastery of nature.

This was horrible and life was insufferable. Superstition took many forms. There were those who believed that trees should be worshipped. Indeed the Druids would sacrifice children to the oak god. Such primitive people were not enlightened at all. There were also primitive people who believed in God and in the teachings of the Bible. Again these people were not enlightened.

And then something truly remarkable transpired. Man discovered science. You see science is the detached and objective study of nature. Science is always true. It is always faithful. It always keeps its wonderful promises.

During this wonderful period of scientific awakening, man discovered the truly awesome power of technology. Science helps us to know all things. And her comely sister Technology allows us to do all things.

This is so vital and important because nature resists us in so many ways. We need to conquer her, ravish her, and plunder her of all her secret riches. This is enlightenment.

But there is a third stage to enlightenment that is often forgotten. Why do we crave science? Why do we crave technological power? The answer is terribly simple. These two delightful ladies allow us to conquer nature and so to discover the wonderful delights of constant and unrelenting consumption. This is the wonder of our western consumer paradise.

Western people no longer struggle for the riches of nature. Go to your local Tesco supermarket and you will be able to sate all your deepest cravings. Cravings for marmalade. Cravings for hot curry powder. Cravings for malt whiskey.

And of course now one can enjoy the most wonderful cruises all over the Caribbean. It's almost impossible to become bored in this consumer paradise… of course as long as one has sufficient funds for your pleasures, tipples and cravings.

It's absolutely marvelous being enlightened. Only the other day I spent three thousand pounds on some new golf clubs and I will be flying to Spain on my private jet and in Spain I will have many episodes of sensual pleasure. I will quaff San Miguel lager, stuff my face with paella. And probably if I am in the mood I will crack jokes about Jimmy Tarbuck and Bruce Forsythe…amusing members of the lower orders

Let me repeat my central thesis. Why are we so enlightened? In the beginning was science and she has made us all-knowing. Then her comely and shapely sister Technology arrived. She has made us all-powerful.

Finally in these end times the glories of the free market have liberated all of us to find pleasure and satiation in constant consumption of inane consumer durables.

Good evening.

The Parable of the Provocative Electrician

Ron was having a busy morning! He had just finished helping a group of formerly homeless men rewire a house in Southport, Lancashire for the Green Pastures housing ministry. At last he was able to sit down and tuck into a large porkpie and lashings of mustard, washed down with a bottle of tizer. Happy Days! A full-on burp felt on the cards.

Just then the phone rang and Ron was amazed to hear the Geordie tones of an assistant to Cheryl Cole. The young woman was polite but firm. 'Cheryl has bought a new mansion in Southport and she needs your help, Ron' was her opening gambit. 'Cheryl will pay you six grand if you can rewire the mansion in the next two days. It's easy money for an expert electrician like you. Think it over and get back to me in the next half-hour'.

Ron put the phone down and wasn't sure if he was 'over the moon' or slightly perturbed. Top dollar but there was a snag. He'd worked for Cheryl Cole before and she could be a difficult and demanding customer. Every plug had to be moved two centimetres to the left! Nightmare scenario.

Ron attacked the porkpie with renewed relish. Just then Don Corleone, the Godfather, rang and the opening gambit was predictable. 'I'm going to make you an offer you can't refuse!' the Sicilian mobster croaked. 'My mansion in Southport is in a deplorable state. The electrics have gone pear-shaped. I'll pay you six grand if you do the job over the next two days!'

Ron was careful in both his phrasing and intonational sensitivities. 'Certainly, Godfather, I will mull this over and get back to you within the hour'. Ron could hear a rotweiler growling down the end of the phone as he rang off.

Again Ron attacked the pie with convivial fervour but the phone rang again. It was Elsie, a rather lonely old lady from across the street. She was clearly distressed and bewildered. She explained that all her fuses had gone and her flat was in complete darkness. She begged Ron to help her in her hour of need.

Ron had fully marinaded in the biblical story and he knew what he had to do. He immediately went round to Elsie's flat and began to do a superb rewiring job for Elsie. His fuses were always ethically sourced, and how he loved copper wire! They were a joy to him as he went about his provocative calling. When he took a break from his labours he made Elsie cups of tea and spoilt her with delicious Battenburg cake. He realised that the job would take him several days but this job would be his jubilee for Elsie. He had already thought through his crafty kingdom project. He wouldn't charge Elsie a single penny! This one was on him.

That evening Ron made two important phone calls. He explained to both Cheryl and the Godfather that he was unable to help them with their mansions. He had other far more important work to do. He put the phone down and smiled.

Review of Church Actually

  • Gerard Kelly, Church Actually: God's Brilliant Idea, Oxford: Lion Hudson, 2011

Gerard has written a real gem of a book here. He offers us imaginative and vibrant pictures of God's heartbeat for church. It's without doubt the best read on church in the market right now. He challenges the drabness, greyness and ugly dualism that turns people off the Christian faith! He re-imagines church in the context of a Creator God who is busy redeeming every nook and cranny of His broken world.

My only criticism of the book (and I'm being churlish here) is that Gerard does not say enough about non-ecclesiastical 'kingdom structures' such as Neema, Green Pastures, the Clapham Sect etc. In my view God's kingdom is made more visible by such prophetic institutions and local churches should work closely with these kingdom structures.

This book should be required reading for all vicars, curates and vergers. It should be studied and discussed by housegroups all over the UK and beyond.

Church Actually is well researched, inspiring and beautifully written. Kelly's poetic eloquence, wisdom and wit will bless you mightily.

Thank you Gerard for this great resource!

No Surrender

In 1944, Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda was sent by the Japanese army to the remote Philippine island of Lubang. His mission was to conduct guerrilla warfare during the war. Unfortunately, he was never officially told that the war had ended and so for 29 long years, Onoda lived in the jungle completely convinced that the war was still going on. He managed to survive on berries, coconuts and bananas and cleverly evaded searching parties that he believed to be enemy soldiers. Only when Onoda's former commander, Major Taniguchi travelled to the Philippines in 1974 and commanded the lieutenant to lay down his arms, did Onoda finally surrender.

The Worldview

Many Japanese have a deeply held religious belief that they are the direct descendants of the sun-goddess Amaterasu-Omi-Kami. Such descent destines them to be the supreme people of the world. Therefore, the final place of loyalty is to the Japanese nation. This religious belief had a profound impact upon many Japanese soldiers during World War 2. For such men obedience to their divine emperor (Hirohito) was absolute. Capture was an unthinkable disgrace and surrender was the highest form of betrayal. Indeed the famous Kamikaze pilots actually gave their lives by flying their planes directly into American warships.

Odd reason to get divorced

Vicki Lowing is an Australian woman who lives near Melbourne in Australia. She says that she divorced her husband, Greg, after he asked her to give up her pet crocodile, Johnie, in 2005. Vickie has also claimed that her son Andrew, 15, and Johnie have experienced sibling rivalry. "Sometimes Andrew goes to have a shower and Johnie's already in there and not keen to share the space".

Vicki adopted Johnie after the reptile was left on her doorstep in 1996. Vicki told a newspaper that – "Husbands can look after themselves but my crocodile can't make his meals. As soon as I started looking after Johnie, Greg and I started having problems. We did nothing but fight. There was a lot of tension in the house."

The couple have now divorced.

I've heard of marriages that have been ruined by infidelity and abuse but this one is very odd. Is it a form of crocodile idolatry? Would Sobek, the Egyptian crocodile god, be 'over the moon' about Vicki's decision?

Raised in Leeds

Leeds-based illustrator Si Smith presents 19 'stations of the resurrection' all relocated to present-day Leeds. Full of beautifully observed detail, the pictures reflect the Leeds we know and love (particularly north Leeds, where Si lives, and the city centre) and pose that eternal 'What if…?' question that comes from relocating one of our culture's greatest narratives into a 21st century city.

The pictures will be presented along with other simple artifacts that enhance the story, and a prayer guide will be available for those that wish to see further into the work.

Raised in Leeds is a remarkable meditation on the secret life of Leeds, teaching us to see wonderful things down any street.

Left Bank Leeds • April 2-6, 2012

Girl sells baby. Should we be surprised?

The following story is appearing in newspapers.

Police in northern Greece say a 12-year-old girl has been arrested along with three of her relatives after selling her 10-week-old baby son for 12,500 euros to undercover officers posing as adoptive parents. Police said the girl, her 44-year-old aunt and her aunt's parents, aged 65 and 71, were all arrested on illegal adoption charges.

The 12-year-old was expected to be released from custody after being interviewed by a public prosecutor. The incident took place in Xrysoupoli, a town about 700km northeast of Athens, after police acted on a tip and used marked banknotes for the transaction. The baby was taken to hospital for observation.

Again, we need to use such stories in our discipleship programmes. The issues are not complex. If we believe deep down that Singer is right then we will live accordingly. Babies are 'morally irrelevant' and so selling them makes complete sense. Hobbes put this most clearly when he argued the following: Humans are machines. Humans have no free will. Humans are only valuable if someone is willing to stump up cash.

This leads of course to people selling and killing babies. Some humans are worth £4.99. Fernando Torres is worth £50 million. Some are worthless.

Why is it that churches never spend time helping people to understand this pernicious, pagan religion (materialism)?

Why the endless talks about Daniel and the tigers?

Infanticide and Peter Singer

Killing babies no different from abortion, experts say. Parents should be allowed to have their newborn babies killed because they are "morally irrelevant" and ending their lives is no different to abortion, a group of medical ethicists linked to Oxford University has argued.

This is the beginning of a recent article in the Daily Telegraph.

Arthur Jones and I have repeatedly argued that Christian discipleship must include 'worldview awareness'. This story can help us to see why this is the case.

Let's probe behind the story.

Peter Singer is a famous and influential Australian philosopher. He is a committed atheist. Perhaps he is most famous for his book Animal Liberation.

Singer completely dismisses the biblical teaching that we are made in the image and likeness of God. He asserts that this view is guilty of 'species bigotry'. For a secular thinker like Singer it is arrogant and false to assert that humans are better than 'other animals'. In the light of Darwinian evolution we must embrace species egalitarianism. At the end of the day there is nothing special about human beings. We are just one of many species thrown up by the evolutionary process.

Singer distinguishes human beings in the biological sense from persons who are rational and self conscious beings. In his secular worldview he has no basis for seeing human beings in a different category from other animals. In general, humans have more intelligence and greater self-awareness but some humans lack these faculties.

In the newborn they are undeveloped; in the severely brain damaged they are lost; and in the dementing they are fading day by day. They are humans but not persons. Some adult animals, however, are remarkably intelligent. They are persons, though not human.

For Singer any creature that is not sentient, capable of experiencing pleasure and pain, has no ethical value: it has no interests to consider.

So what follows from this? In simple terms some humans are not persons and some animals are persons. For example an adult pig is a person for Singer but a newborn baby is not. The pig, according to Singer, has many preferences; the baby has hardly any! Monkeys are persons but some senile and dementing humans are not persons!

So Singer is happy for us to kill off both babies and old people because their lives are worthless. And now his views are becoming very fashionable.

Why don't more churches disciple their congregations to think Christianly about such issues?

Mafia nicknames

Some Mafia names are very entertaining! What is your favourite?

  1. Jimmy 'The Weasel' Fratianno
  2. Anthony 'Fat Tony' Salerno
  3. Vincent 'The Chin' Gigante
  4. Leo 'Lips' Moceri
  5. Sammy 'The Bull' Gravano
  6. Salvatore 'Fat Sally' Scala
  7. Vincenzo 'The Egg' Cotroni
  8. Johnny 'Big Lips' Pescatori
  9. Jimmy 'The Chop' Marini
  10. Ants 'Ice Man' Zamboni
  11. Joey 'Kneecap' Santorielli
  12. Roberto 'Wrinkle Free' Capelli