Archives For Culture

This is the second time during Lent (Secular Lent: Give Me Puritans Over Prigs Any day) that I’ve found a provocative piece by Giles Fraser to be on the money.

Today is Palm Sunday. In churches up and down the land we will recreate Jesus’s triumphant arrival into Jerusalem. The atmosphere has the feel of an enthusiastic political rally with people waving flags and cheering the successful candidate who, they feel, is about to change everything.

‘Hosanna,’ the crowd shouts out. This man is being held up as the saviour. But a week is a long time – and not just in politics. 

Within a few days all this support has dried up. Something flips and the crowd start pelting Jesus with stones and spitting on him. By Good Friday, the same people who were shouting Hosanna are now calling for his death. Even his own party has rejected him. 

Is it any wonder that politicians – who are always in the popularity business – find it so uncomfortable to travel alongside Christ on this dark journey? 

Yes, some of them make the right sort of noise. 

The Prime Minister has previously insisted that he believes in God and that this is a Christian country. 

Now he has gone further, using an Easter video message to praise the ‘countless acts of kindness carried out by those who believe in and follow Christ’. 

He continued, expounding a little of his personal theology: ‘The heart of Christianity is to love thy neighbour and millions really do live that out.’

He spoke of the good work Christians do in prisons, their efforts in setting up food banks and the support people gave each other during the recent floods. ‘Parish priests even canoed through their villages to rescue residents. They proved once again that people’s faith motivates them to do good deeds.’

I thank the Prime Minister for his words of support for Christians. Yet most politicians who speak of God look about as comfortable as my dad does break-dancing. Perhaps that is why Alastair Campbell advised Tony Blair so strongly against it.

Even Gordon Brown, son of the Manse, looked awkward when he was trying to sound pious. He too reached for this practical, moral aspect of Christianity when he came to recommend it: ‘Do to others what you would have them do unto you,’ he told the gathered faithful at St Paul’s Cathedral back in 2009.

Now there is nothing wrong with all of this – as far as it goes.

But here’s the problem: no-one was ever crucified for kindness. Jesus was not strung up on a hideous Roman instrument of torture because of his good deeds. If Jesus is just a remarkably good person whose example we ought to follow, why the need for the dark and difficult story of betrayal, death and resurrection that Christians will commemorate this week? . . . .

Look at the current crop of well-loved TV vicars. Both Rev (which depicts a parish similar to my own near the Elephant and Castle in South London) and The Vicar of Dibley show plenty of good deeds and kindness. 

These gentle people with wet handshakes are approachable community figures, helping knit together the fabric of society with bingo and Sunday school. And we also want them to be figures of fun because that is how we keep religion safe. 

It wasn’t always this way. Thousands were butchered during the Civil War in the name of their different understandings of God – probably the last flowering of popular religious fundamentalism in England. I suspect it was in reaction against the deep political traumas of the 17th Century that the English re-invented Christianity as something to do with kindness and good deeds. 

When religious ideology got as toxic as it did, it was an act of genius to redefine religion as being primarily about pastoral care. From the 18th Century onwards, Christianity ceased to be about pike-toting revolutionaries hoping to rebuild Jerusalem in here in England.

Instead, through the Church of England, it increasingly became a David Cameron-type faith: the religion of good deeds . . . .

There is nothing distinctively Christian about this sort of virtue. And it’s hardly the sort of message that is going to fill our churches. No, the sort of message that makes a difference to people’s lives – and gets them out of bed on a Sunday morning – has to be much more powerful. 

Speaking last week, the Prime Minister stressed the importance of teaching children the religious meaning of Easter. It’s more than chocolate eggs, he emphasised. That, of course, is quite right. 

But will any politician really have the gall to preach the full story of Christ’s crucifixion? As St Paul himself noted, it is offensive and scandalous stuff. It means being brave, taking risks, standing up to wrong, even when – and this is bound to happen – it is personally distressing for us to do 
that. It means real belief and absolute commitment. It is so much more than a brief nod to Sunday school truisms.  

It is sad – even if it is understandable – that so much of what we hear from leading figures in politics and elsewhere is a pallid imitation of Christianity, the equivalent of empty-gesture politics. Real faith, like real leadership, means taking hard decisions and standing by them.

Unless Christians in politics are prepared to address the darkness and struggle that we face on Good Friday, it is probably better that they steer clear of preaching altogether. 

For in order to be reborn at the resurrection we have first have to die with Christ. We have to walk the way of the cross. We have to face rejection and humiliation. Little wonder the Prime Minister avoided all this in his Easter broadcast.

 

Read it all.

Around-the-Horn[1]When Marriage is Hard
So this is why they make you take vows.

A Bubba With A Passion for the Gospel and for Golf
On Sunday Bubba Watson, one of the most untraditional golfers on the PGA Tour, was the winner of the 2014 Masters Tournament. But golf isn’t Watson’s top priority.

It’s Back – The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife and the State of Modern Scholarship
From Albert Mohler: Last week, the Harvard Theological Review released a much-delayed series of articles on the fragment. After a series of investigations undertaken by diverse scholars, the general judgment claimed by Professor King is that the fragment dates back to ancient times.

The Neutrality of Bigness
Last Lord’s day, despite the absence of a few, we had an encouragingly large congregation. By some standards, it was large. By others, pitifully small. By ours, with a visiting family of believers, and a number of visitors from the community, several for the first time, it was a joy.

Archbishop Welby Struggles with a Greater Truth
The Archbishop’s mistake, or naiveté, was to treat these opposing views as standing upon equal ground.

Moralism is Not the Gospel (But Many Christians Think It Is)
one of the most seductive false gospels is moralism. This false gospel can take many forms and can emerge from any number of political and cultural impulses. Nevertheless, the basic structure of moralism comes down to this — the belief that the Gospel can be reduced to improvements in behavior.

A Medical Account of Jesus’ Death
When you reconstruct the medical aspects of Jesus’ crucifixion, the result is a brutal, vivid picture of what Jesus endured to save people from sin.

From his recent interview in the NYT:

Mr. Bloomberg was introspective as he spoke, and seemed both restless and wistful. When he sat down for the interview, it was a few days before his 50th college reunion. His mortality has started dawning on him, at 72. And he admitted he was a bit taken aback by how many of his former classmates had been appearing in the “in memoriam” pages of his school newsletter.

But if he senses that he may not have as much time left as he would like, he has little doubt about what would await him at a Judgment Day. Pointing to his work on gun safety, obesity and smoking cessation, he said with a grin: “I am telling you if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.”

Read it all.

Around-the-Horn[1]Till Conscious Uncoupling Do Us Part
The twitter universe was abuzz when actress Gwyneth Paltrow announced on her digital media website GOOP, that after 11 years of marriage, she and her husband, Coldplay front-man Chris Martin, were “consciously uncoupling.”  #consciousuncoupling  . . . Say what?  Everyone else calls it a separation, split, break-up, or divorce. But Paltrow, known as somewhat of a lifestyle guru, thinks those terms carry too much negative baggage. So what, exactly, is conscious uncoupling?  Here are 3 main ideas that I’ve extracted from all the GOOP-y conscious-uncoupling gobbley-gook . . .

Four Types of Belonging
Four different dimensions of belonging have emerged as I have studied churchgoing. I have named them activities, events, people, and places. The central idea is that all four are present in each of us but, for most individuals, a particular one is dominant.

John Donne in Lent
Donne is the poet of embodiment. He writes about things we can see and feel: fleas, ants, bearbaiting, the sudden blush of a young girl, a long voyage at sea, theatres that “are filled with emptiness,” and wartime in an “age of rusty iron.” He also writes a lot about himself and his torturous relationship with God. After he died, Donne was called “a second St. Augustine.” The Doctor of Grace is quoted more than seven hundred times in Donne’s surviving sermons. There is no doubt that he read and lived out the Confessions over and over again. The Augustinian themes of restlessness, original sin, repentance, forgiveness, pilgrimage, predestination, the resurrection of the body, and the overarching hope of salvation born of pain—these are all present in a language that still dazzles in both poetry and prose.

The Book of Common Prayer is Still A Big Deal
The key differences, I think, lie in two other areas. First, in what Cranmer took away: for instance, the whole panoply of devotion to the saints was cut back tremendously, leaving the saints’ days still in place but emphasizing that they are examples to be followed rather than intercessors.  Second, and for Cranmer most important, is the strong emphasis on a lectionary that took people through the whole Bible—and, if people went to Morning and Evening Prayer, read through the whole of the books of Psalms each month. Cranmer wanted the literate to read the Bible thoroughly and faithfully, and for the illiterate to hear it read every day.

Is Opposition to Marriage Like Opposition to Interracial Marriage?
Is opposition to same-sex marriage at all like opposition to interracial marriage? One refrain in debates over marriage policy is that laws designating marriage as exclusively the union of male and female are today’s equivalent of bans on interracial marriage. Some further argue that protecting the freedom to speak and act publicly on the basis of a religious belief that marriage is the union of a man and woman amounts to the kind of laws that enforced race-based segregation.  These claims are wrong on several counts.

Amy Cuddy: Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are
Fascinating TED video.

The Life You (Don’t) Want: Oprah’s Tour For the Self
This is cultural consumerism at both its highest and lowest — humanistic in its instincts, privileged in its priorities, and carefully glazed with all the right marketing to deceive itself that justice is at hand and Neighbor Love has the wheel. It’s as if human desire has grown so weary of natural constraints and so content with its own appetite that it would prefer to label self-indulgence as “self-help” and be done with it.  It’s faux-self-empowerment for the self-centered, heart-religion as a mantle for hedonism.

Why Teaching Poetry is so Important
Students who don’t like writing essays may like poetry, with its dearth of fixed rules and its kinship with rap. For these students, poetry can become a gateway to other forms of writing. It can help teach skills that come in handy with other kinds of writing—like precise, economical diction, for example. When Carl Sandburg writes, “The fog comes/on little cat feet,” in just six words, he endows a natural phenomenon with character, a pace, and a spirit. All forms of writing benefits from the powerful and concise phrases found in poems.

No.  It is not.

Ed Stetzer explains.  From Christianity Today:

Come on—it’s 2014.

Every church should have an online presence.

Your church people and your community are there, so you should be as well. But that is different than referring to something that happens via your website as a “church.”

Can an online gathering of Christians be classified as a church? Let’s think through this by asking five questions.

Read the rest.

From CNN Belief Blog:

Perhaps you’ve heard that there is trouble brewing among evangelicals.

Younger Christians are weary of pitched cultural battles and are longing for the “real Jesus” – a Jesus who talks more about washing feet and feeding the poor than flashpoint issues like same-sex marriage and the sanctity of life.

If key evangelical influencers don’t listen, we are told, they are about to lose the entire millennial generation. Or, maybe that generation is already gone.

This story has been told with testimonials, chronicled in best-selling books and posted on popular blogs.

Here’s the short version: If only orthodox evangelical leaders would give up their antiquated beliefs, get more in step with the real Jesus, the church and the world would be better off.

Embedded in this narrative are two presuppositions:

• Young evangelicals are fleeing the church at a rapid pace.
• The real message of Jesus looks nothing like orthodox Christianity.

There’s only one thing wrong with these two ideas: They aren’t true.

Read the rest.

From Darkness to Light

Child abuse decision chart

From Doug Wils over at Blog & Mablog:

We have gotten to that stage in the battle where the forces have fully joined, and there is no longer — properly speaking — a front. We do not have a distinguishable line anymore. It is more like a melee, with different colored uniforms everywhere. And this is why every topic has been swept up into the conflict.

Where can you go where the ruling elites will agree to leave you alone? Can you change a light bulb? Can you fry up some bacon? Can you decline joining in the mandatory celebrations of a same sex mirage? Can you keep your doctor? Are you allowed use plastic bags?

Chesterton said somewhere that our task is to fly the flag of the world — and we should know that this is something that is certain to bring us into conflict with the world. We affirm a fundamental creational loyalty to the world, and constantly thwart the world’s desire to become disloyal to itself. This is why it is good to be earthy, and bad to be worldly. Worldliness is just a clever way of deserting the world.

This is why a battle in a philosophy class over the correspondence view of truth is connected to the marriage debates, which in turn is connected to the environment, which in turn is connected to just war theory, which in turn is connected to the correspondence view of truth.

Everything is connected. Everything matters. Nonsense tolerated anywhere will metastasize, and the results are always ugly. “When the people have got used to unreason they can no longer be startled at injustice.”

Read the rest.

Around-the-Horn[1]5 Hard Things to Pray for Your Husband
Your husband doesn’t only need you to pray that he has a good day, is successful, and walks with Jesus. These are not bad requests, but are rather generic prayers that have too little specific direction behind them. What our husbands need from us are specific prayers, hard prayers, for their growth in godliness. I love my husband and I want what is best for him. And the best thing for him is to be a man who who lives for the glory of God.

God and Freedom
George Weigel: or the better part of two centuries now, one of the standard tropes in western high culture has held that the-God-of-the-Bible-is-the-enemy-of-human-freedom. This past December, Rémi Brague exploded that myth in a lecture at the Pontifical Urban University that was, I’m willing to wager, the most scintillating such exercise heard in Rome that semester.

The Baffled Spinster
Young women make the terrible choices that they are making because they are told from an early age that these are actually good choices.

How To Engage False Teachers
Denny Burk: I argue that there are two kinds of false teachers: those who repent and those who do not. Those who repent when admonished are those “who come to their senses” and “escape from the snare of the devil”. But those who don’t repent—those who aren’t correctable—are those who suffer “shipwreck in regard to their faith”.

Spot the Differences at the E Churches
I wonder if highly observant readers can spot the subtle differences between these two descriptions of the ideal candidates for ministry?

Is This The Holy Grail?
Just in time for Easter: Two historians claim the search for the Holy Grail is over. The famous cup used by Jesus Christ during the Last Supper was identified in a book written by Margarita Torres Jose Manuel Ortega del Rio, titled “Kings of the Grail” and published last week, as the jewel-encrusted goblet on display at the San Isidro Basilica in the northwestern Spanish city of Leon.

So How Many Gay Bishops Are There?
From Terry Mattingly: Spinning a news story is not as easy as it seems. Too light a touch and an author fails to convince his audience of the merits of his cause. Too much can spin the ball out of the author’s control — touching upon so many issues and arguments that readers may become enamored with the “wrong” issue.

Good News In The Fight Against Abortion
If Wendy Davis and Planned Parenthood are the face of the pro-abortion movement, then there may yet be hope that this is the last generation for legal abortion in the United States.

Rediscovering Jesus’ Hymnbook
How interested would you be if archaeologists unearthed a hymnbook embossed with the name, “Jesus of Nazareth?” Overlooking the anachronism for a moment, wouldn’t “Jesus’ hymnbook” be immediately republished and rocket to the best-seller lists? Wouldn’t those songs find instantaneous popularity in worship services across the globe?

A short clip from the show a few nights ago.  I am enjoying Fallon as the host.

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