RealityBites blog

Conversations with Dutch teachers and students

It was very encouraging meeting up with Piet Murre who is a Professor of Education at Driestar Christian University, Gouda in the Netherlands. I met him in 2009 in Holland. He came with another lecturer from Driestar and four students who are training to be teachers.

We spent a good two hours talking about storytelling and the RealityBites pedagogy. I outlined the Mafia conference we deliver and how evil can be understood in, at least, five different ways (Hindu, Buddhist, Materialist, Pagan and Christian). I explained how a government inspector marked the conference as 'outstanding' and that the material provoked the students to ask great questions about both Jesus and the differences between Buddhism, Materialism and Christianity. They seemed impressed and wanted to know more. I then told them about my experiences of talking about the Christian faith in ways that do not activate disdain and 'shutters crashing down'. I told them how rat worship, although strange and wacky, can lead to very fruitful and enjoyable conversations about the incarnation and idolatry. I further noted that conversations about karma and reincarnation can also be very profitable. I told them a story about a guru, Yogananda who claimed to have lived in a diamond and then later was embodied as William the Conquerer. I pointed out that humour and imagination are vital in the effective communication of the Christian faith. It is easy to contrast resurrection hope with reincarnation if you have a good story.The Dutch students pointed out that belief in karma was popular in the Netherlands and that these 'speech acts' were spot on.

We then had an excellent conversation about modernism, postmodernism and new age mindsets and how vital it is to engage with these worldviews if we are to talk meaningfully and credibly about the Christian faith. Piet Murre encouraged me to produce a resource that would focus on which stories to deploy when talking to a relativist or a materialist etc. He said this would be a very helpful resource for Christian teachers in the Netherlands.

I was delighted that all the students and the lecturers bought copies of my book. Piet told me that my approach was 'novel' and this was very encouraging.

Frank Sinatra on Christian Faith

Story

Frank Sinatra had many friends in the Mafia. Frank was once spotted kissing the ring of hit man Sonny Franzese in an act of respect. Sinatra was grateful to Sonny because the mobster had done him favours. Frank Sinatra Junior was playing at the San Su San nightclub in New York; the paying punters were thin on the ground and Frank Jr was bombing. Famous dad telephoned Sonny and explained the problem. The next night and for many weeks, the nightclub was packed with hit men, bookmakers, loan sharks and prostitutes. They cheered loudly for Frank Jr and his singing career really took off. The famous crooner was deeply grateful to Sonny Franzese. You might be surprised to learn that Frank Sinatra believed in God!

Background Notes

Frank Sinatra was interviewed by the infamous Playboy magazine and he was asked if he believed in God. This was his answer:

"I think I can sum up my religious feelings in a couple of paragraphs. First: I believe in you and me.....I believe in nature, in the birds, the sea, the sky, in everything I can see or that there is real evidence for. If these things are what you mean by God, then I believe in God. But I don't believe in a personal God to whom I look for comfort or for a natural on the next roll of the dice. I'm not unmindful of man's seeming need for faith; I'm for anything that gets you through the night, be it prayer, tranquilizers or a bottle of Jack Daniel's.......Well, I believe that God knows what each of us wants and needs. It's not necessary for us to make it to church on Sunday to reach Him. You can find Him anyplace. And if that sounds heretical, my source is pretty good: Matthew, Five to Seven, The Sermon on the Mount."

Frank Sinatra was not an atheist but he didn't believe in Jesus as Lord and Saviour. His comments about 'religion' are pantheist. God is not a person at all because God is the same as nature. We should add that this impersonal god does not expect you to pray or to repent of your sins. After all this deity is in everything, both Mother Theresa and brutal hit man Sonny Franzese.

Four Ways of Looking at the Story

Materialist faith: "We believe that Frank was misguided because everything is just matter in motion.

Relativist faith: "We believe that Frank was being true to himself. He picked a faith that worked for him."

Pantheist faith: "We believe that there are sparks of the divine in everything. No need to pray, repent or confess your sins. Relax and sip Jack Daniel's with a Mafia pal.

Christian faith: "We believe that God is revealed in Jesus Christ. Sonny must repent and stop killing people. If he does that, the Holy Spirit will come and live in him."

Questions

1) Did Frank Sinatra have a convenient faith?

2) Is this a dangerous faith?

3) What is the difference between pantheist and Christian faith?

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Dangerous Faith in the Enneagram

Oscar Ichazo (born 1931) is the Bolivian-born psychologist who first developed the spiritual resource known as the Enneagram. The Enneagram focuses on nine personality types that are arranged into a chart resembling a pentagram. Ichazo, a Sufi-inspired mystic, claims to have had out-of-body experiences since childhood. He further claimed that he had received instructions from a highly evolved spirit being called 'Metatron' (an archangel mentioned in Gnostic literature) and that this revelation was crucial to the Enneagram project. Richard Rohr and Helen Palmer are committed teachers of this Gnostic way of salvation. Many admirers of the Enneagram are unaware of its occult roots.

Background Notes

The Enneagram diagram was first used by Sufi mystics for pagan fortune-telling. This resource is now used as a tool for character analysis and spiritual direction. It can be described as a sacred map of the soul which helps us to understand the nine ways that we forget our connection with the divine. This is a Gnostic mindset that can be summarised thus: 1) When we are born we live in our divine centre. As babies and toddlers we are sinless, perfect and at one with God. Biblical teaching about original sin is denied. 2) When we are three or four, we develop defense strategies to cope with our emotional pain and this process creates the ego. There are nine kinds of dysfunctional ego states that are caused by bad karma. 3) The Enneagram brings us salvation by removing the ego (false self) and restoring us to union with the divine (true self). We do this through mystical work and self-effort. There is no need for Jesus' death and resurrection. We find out our particular ego malfunction and then we move like an arrow towards the corrective ego type. For example a '1' (perfectionist) can find liberation and salvation by moving to a '7' (enthusiast).

Four Ways of Looking at the Story

Materialist faith: "We believe that the Enneagram is irrational. Humans are not sparks of the divine. We are consumers so shop till you drop."

Relativist faith: "We believe that mysticism is great if it works for you. Follow your mystical longings. The Enneagram can help you do this."

Gnostic faith: "We believe that your true self is identical with the divine. The Enneagram will purify your lost soul (ego) and take you back to the divine One."

Christian faith: "God is not an impersonal energy force. You cannot find salvation by trusting in the Enneagram. Follow Jesus and trust in His death and resurrection."

Questions

1) Is the Enneagram dangerous?

2) Why is the Enneagram a Gnostic spiritual resource?

3) Why is the Enneagram popular with Christians?

Katie Price can help us talk about Christian faith

Katie Price is an English celebrity, former model and businesswoman. She was the most successful page three girl featured in The Sun newspaper. She is notorious for her outrageous and rather tawdry lifestyle. A role model to some and an embarrassment to others, she is brutally frank about herself and asserted this in an interview:  "I am a rich chav. You couldn't get any more chav than me. I'm the only person in Britain to own a bespoke pink Land Rover with crystals on it, and I love it. I'm a chav but I'm just lucky that I've got money with it." In 2012, Price's net worth was estimated at £45 million.

Background Notes

Katie Price is a celebrity whose impulsive and chaotic lifestyle intrigues many. Katie is living in an individualistic and materialist story. This is how she outlined her faith: "No one can live without money. Money and religion are the big things, and that's it, and I stay away from religion. We love to earn money, who doesn't? It gets you things and it's security.” Many do not notice that this is a confession of faith. Instead of trusting in Jesus, Katie trusts in the money god. We should not be surprised that Katie has earned millions of pounds as she faithfully serves this popular god. Her faith is similar to the rich fool in the New Testament (Luke 12:13-21). In this parable Jesus challenges a selfish and materialistic mindset - 'eat, drink and be merry'. The rich fool's monologue is infused with 'I' six times and 'my' four times. The rich fool is oblivious in his egocentric musings. "I'll put my barns here, my donkeys there and my jacuzzi over there." Is Katie a rich fool? This is how you can begin a conversation about Jesus. Tell people that you disagree with Katie's faith. Expose the false money god and then contrast faith in Jesus with Katie's false faith.

Four Ways of Looking at the Story

Materialist faith: "We believe that Katie is a shrewd and successful businesswoman. She is following the money. She is a role model."

Relativist faith: "We believe that Katie is following her heart. Well done Katie."

Karma faith: "We believe that Katie must have done very well in previous lives."

Christian faith: "We believe that Katie is following the seductive money god. She must repent, believe in Jesus and get baptised."

Questions

1) How would you appraise Katie's faith?

2) Why does it sound odd to claim that Katie has faith?

3) Why does Katie put her security in her huge fortune?

Mafia Conference in Doncaster

 

It was both humbling and encouraging to spend two hours with sixth formers exploring the Mafia, evil, materialism, eastern religions and the Christian faith in Doncaster yesterday. When you tackle 'hot' topics like evil and unseen powers of darkness it is vital to pray and fast and I'd just like to thank anyone who prayed for me yesterday. I really felt the prayer as I spoke - it was fantastic to see seeds being sown in young lives. Yesterday convinced me how important it is to integrate Christian storytelling with seeking God (Isaiah 55:6) in prayer and worship.

There is such a need to bring Christian storytelling into our schools and universities. Please contact me if you have any ideas or suggestions!

Dangerous Faith in Santa Muerte

Story

Many call her Santa Muerte (Saint Death) but she has been condemned by the Roman Catholic church. The grim, skeletal female figure has a huge following in Mexico. Faith in Santa Muerte is popular among criminals, drug lords and ne'er-do-wells who sometimes crawl piously to a Santa Muerte shrine. This is the fastest growing religion in the Americas. There are approximately 10 - 12 million worshippers, mostly in Mexico, but also significant numbers in the United States and Central America. Picture it. You want to smuggle cocaine into the USA and you want supernatural help. Do you pray to Jesus or Santa Muerta? It's a no brainer.

Background Notes

Santa Muerte is very popular because she is viewed as an amoral supernatural power that can be invoked for corrupt and seedy purposes. Worshippers feel comfortable going to her with nasty and selfish prayers. She has been present in Mexican culture since Spanish colonial times when Catholic colonizers, hoping to evangelize the native people of Mexico, brought over female grim reaper figures as a depiction of death. In many parts of the world animists make bargains with the spirits and this is the heart of this faith. A follower might promise to bring Santa Muerte cigars and Tequila if she answers the petition. Fr. Gary Thomas, a Vatican-trained exorcist for the Diocese of San Jose in Mexico, explained that he has prayed with people who have been oppressed by demons after praying to Santa Muerte. Many say that you cannot leave the Santa Muerte faith. She will exact revenge and punish the faithless ones who spurn her.

Four Ways of Looking at the Story

Materialist Faith: "We believe that faith in Santa Muerte is just as foolish as faith in Jesus or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Stop praying to illusory gods and put your faith in science and technology.

Relativist faith: "We believe that every religion has truth in it. If Santa Muerte floats your boat, start crawling to her shrine."

Santa Muerta faith: "We believe that Santa Muerte has great power to answer our prayers. She can help us in our darkest hours. Unlike Jesus we can ask her to help us smuggle drugs and have our enemies killed."

Christian faith: "We believe that praying to Santa Muerte is very dangerous. Evil powers love tricking people into serving them through this popular but deadly faith.

Questions

1) Why do people prefer Santa Muerte to Jesus?

2) Is it a harmless faith?

3) How is faith in Santa Muerte different from faith in the money god?

From Maradona to Jesus

 Is Maradona the best footballer of all time?

Worldwide there are 200,000 worshippers of Diego who attend the church of Maradona. The faithful follow their own 'bespoke' ten commandments which urge them to 'love football above everything' and 'name your first son Diego'.

The Church of Maradona insists that you get baptised by slapping a football!

There are three ways of looking at this odd story.

Materialists will dub this 'mere superstition'.

Relativists will nod approvingly: whatever works for you.

Christians will stress that trusting in the Maradona faith cannot wipe away your sins. Those who love and trust in Jesus have their sins forgiven.

 

Ben Jones is a technical genius!

 

It was so uplifting working with Ben Jones this morning at Leeds City College. Ben is a wonderfully imaginative youth worker and I do commend his organisation Missional Generation to you.

The VirtualReality experience was a powerful and breathtaking journey through five very different planets and you felt like a seasoned astronaut gazing at the nooks and crannies of the universe in a comfortable and reliable rocket. The students loved it!

Ben then spoke very eloquently about the Christian faith and linked it to the incredible diversity and intricacy of God's amazing universe. I then pitched in by reading part of Psalm 139. I was struck by how absorbed and attentive the students were.

Anybody who wants to help young people connect with God should pick up a phone and talk to the affable and gifted Ben Jones. I was very impressed by his technical confidence with all the paraphernalia of VirtualReality.

Thanks Stephen Ross and Leeds City College for asking us to come and share in your Interfaithweek. 

For more about Ben Jones and his ministry go to: 

https://www.missionalgen.co.uk/vr/

 

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Talking to an atheist about Eric Harris

Talking to aggressive atheists can be enjoyable and fulfilling if you have an intelligent and creative spiel.

I was talking to an atheist builder who had a pop at me for being a Christian. He declared boldly: "I'm on the side of science and not religion."

I was straight in there. "Does that mean you agree with Eric Harris then?

The builder was puzzled and asked me: "Who is Eric Harris?"

I smiled inwardly and launched into my bespoke evangelism patter.

"Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot 12 students and a teacher at Columbine High School, Colorado, USA in 1999. Eric wrote in his diary:

“just because your mommy and daddy tell you blood and violence is bad, you think it’s a f—g law of nature? wrong, only science and math are true, everything else, and I mean every f—g thing else is man made.”

Eric also wrote: "It's all just nature, chemistry and math, deal with it.” 

I paused for breath and asked him again - "Is this how you look at the world? Eric was on the side of science! Is he right or wrong?

The geyser was taken aback at this and said he didn't know what to say. Then he opined:

"But surely religion is responsible for all the wars in the world today. Just look at what's happening in Syria today. It's truly terrible!

I continued my patter thus: "If I agreed with you and Eric Harris I would be truly miserable about all the horrors of war. If snipers, bombers and torturers are 'just machines' then there is no hope at all. What we call 'evil' is simply the laws of physics at work. Do you agree with that?

The builder was surprised that I didn't 'defend religion' but instead attacked his scientism. He was softened and admitted that he had never thought about the dark side of scientism.

In conclusion I delivered this spiel: "If I believed that torturers and bombers were 'just machines', I would top myself right now but I have a hope in the resurrection body and Jesus Christ. One day the middle east will be filled with love and mercy. No more bombers and torturers when Christ returns to bring His kingdom in its fullness.

"Wow" he said. "Never thought about that!"

He certainly didn't agree with me but he left with some glimmers of understanding and perhaps some hope.

 

RealityBites in Crete

Just came back from a great holiday in Crete with Anne. Truth be told, Crete has a lot more sunshine than Leeds and Zeus, the Greek god, was supposedly born on that fair isle! We didn't bump into the husband of Hera or any other Greek deity but we did have a remarkable encounter with a witty and outgoing plasterer, Ron and his delightful wife, Sally. (These names are not the real names.)

Picture it. We are on the plane and Ron, the plasterer, is worried about Sally who is a 'nervous' flyer. We offer to help by switching seats. Ron was very grateful and generously bought Anne a gin and tonic (£7.40). He told me a bit about himself and suddenly informed me that he had a 'gift'. I probed gently and it turned out that he is 'clairvoyant'. Ron knew things about me that surprised me! I then told the charming couple my Vinnie Jones and Duke of Edinburgh yarns. Both were intrigued and they began to ask me lots of questions about faith and God. Stories can unlock conversations about faith in a relaxing and stress free way. This is the heart of RealityBites.

Ron and I then talked for about 3 1/2 hours. Our conversation touched on Leeds United, the kingdom of God, buying and selling cars, the death and resurrection of Jesus, holidays in Cuba, spiritual warfare, gin and tonics, Tarzan, the human trafficker, repentance and conflicting ways of understanding clairvoyance and spiritualism. I probed Ron about his work and family and he told me a lot about his painful estrangement from his mum. This was very moving and I listened attentively. I also told Ron about my conversion from secular faith to Christian faith and the story of the clairvoyant slave girl who was exorcised by the Apostle Paul in Acts 16. Ron didn't become a Christian on the flight but he did tell me that this had been 'the best plane ride of his life'. He also told Anne that talking to me had been 'amazing'. I offered to pray for him about his 'gift' and he told me he would think about it. I hope to see him again.

So often Christians dread these moments. I found the entire conversation exhilarating and exciting. It is easy to talk about Jesus when you follow the master and tell great stories! Vital also to listen empathetically and create genuine dialogue.

  

      

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