Archive for March, 2009|Monthly archive page

IN THE NEWS THIS WEEK…

This is the news…

  • St Alban’s Cathedral has denounced the hot cross bun as ‘too commercial’, preferring the more ‘medieval’ and, by implication, more Christian, recipe.
  • The BNP has announced it is to use the image of Jesus in its advertising, identifying itself with the persecution the Son of God faced.
  • The RS curriculum in UK schools is to be expanded in order to reflect the equally valid faiths of Rastafarianism and Druidism, as well as examining the ‘Rise of atheism’.
  • Ministers in the UK vote against inserting some allowance for ‘free speech’ into the Bill outlawing the incitement of ‘gay hatred’. Many observers believe will now leave churches liable to prosecution if they preach that practising homosexuality is wrong or a sin.
  • The UK Equality and Human Rights Commission has suggested a cutting down of maternity leave in order that paternity leave be increased. After all, it is currently grossly unequal that the mother be given so much time with their newborn child…
  • The ‘old-fashioned’ Bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir-Ali has stepped down following long-standing tensions with the Archbishop of Canterbury over the liberal direction of the church. An aide working for the church in Canterbury has called him an “arsehole”.
  • Meanwhile, the Archbishop himself, Dr Rowan Williams, has used his position to congratulate Muslims in the UK, in a week where he has also spoken out about the environment, bankers and knife crime. A search of his 6 press releases in March locate not one single mention of the word ‘Jesus’.
  • Your humble blogger wonders what on earth is going on in this world of ours and is unsurprised that 71% of the UK see religion as ‘unimportant’. He resolves to try and do his bit in order to ensure some measure of sense and truth continue to be spoken.

PS Your blogger this week missed church for no good reason for the first time in years. He instead spent 7 obsessive hours putting together his lecture for the Gifted & Talented Society at school. It concerned Arguments for the Existence of God – a topic he felt partially justified his tardiness. He got to school the next day to find the lecture had been cancelled. He is confused as to the moral of this story.

 

PPS The manic season is abating – real & meaty blogging is to resume imminently… beginning with a profound analysis of whether or not I’m a Calvinist!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CAREER SABOTAGE A GOOD IDEA??

I’ve decided not to go along to the interview at the Catholic school tomorrow. This may not be as big news to you as it is in my head, but it will nevertheless raise eyebrows and possibly even see a few brickbats swung my way. After all, I’ve been noisy about my desire to change job for a few years now and this job was at a great school with a significant reputation. The fact that I turned it down due to it’s Catholic ethos (and I’m not going to lie about the fact) should effectively upset 

  • The at least 3 practising Catholics and at least 2 lapsed Catholics (ie Irish) among our small school staff
  • Those who deem religion a waste of time and merely a charade for the sake of tradition… they will now see me as borderline insane for taking it so seriously
  • Those Christians who see Catholicism as a valid part of the church community and would see my views as arrogant and divisive.

Do they have a point? My brother-in-law works in a Catholic school and seems to reap nothing but benefit as a result – there is an agreed Christian morality, a forum for open prayer and a daily declaration that God is real. Am I being, well, stupid? Let’s look at my reasoning and find out.

  • It would be unfair to parents at the school for me to work there. This is not just a nominally Catholic school; after applying I read that it’s ethos is explicitly designed ‘in accordance with the Canon Law and teachings of the Catholic Church’ and that its syllabus, in particular it’s religious education, ‘is in accordance with the rites, practices, discipline and liturgical norms of the Catholic Church’. Indeed, overall, ‘at all times the school serves as a witness to the Catholic faith’. A parent who chooses this school does so on the basis of this promise. I can’t get on board with that and would therefore be representing the school under false pretences as a member of staff. By way of application, if a lad in my class was to ask about the Pope’s special status and I answered that he was a sinner like anyone else, not to be idolised, then parents would have every right to complain about me. That’s not what they signed up for. But I can’t in good conscience answer any other way. Therefore I shouldn’t be at the head of his class. Admittedly the idea of such subversion does appeal, but I’m not sure it’s the time or place.
  • It would require me to regularly attend, and presumably participate in, ceremonies troubling to my conscience. I don’t want to overplay this – I’m sure I nightly sit through TV programmes and songs that offend more than the Mass. However, it is different when my mouth issues the words, and I don’t want to ascribe any aspect of God’s glory to Mary, saints or the Pope – each of them idols if seen as above the rest of humankind and each of them saved only by the work of Christ.
  • History is a particularly sensitive subject to teach. A standard Year 8 curriculum sees teaching of the Reformation and Luther’s role, of Henry VIII’s ‘Great Matter’, of ‘Bloody’ Mary’s burnings, of the Spanish Armada, the Gunpowder Plot, the English Civil War, the Puritans, Cromwell in Ireland and the Glorious Revolution. Imagine navigating your way through that lot whilst staying onside with the Catholics!! As it is, I aim to teach without overt bias, but I do honestly report as a starting point that Luther rediscovered the teaching of the Bible, particularly regarding justfication by FAITH. Perhaps I am doing my would-be employers a disservice, but I should imagine they’d want things depicted somewhat differently…
  • If I know I’m going to turn down the job then it’s dishonest to my current employer to take a day off for the interview (particularly given I’ve been off the past two days due to a spectacular burst of sickness!), not to mention the staff who must cover me and the students missing a proper lesson at this crucial stage of the year.

Now, I’m aware, on prior performance, that I may well not have got the job. However, we’ll now never know. Am I right to bail? Would there have been any merit in my witnessing as an employee within the Catholic community? What do you reckon?? (Always risky to end with a question as I look silly if no-one answers… if no-one has, presume they’re letting me know in person!!)

BREAKING RADIO SILENCE

And then the blogging stopped… Sorry about that anyone who may have missed me these past couple of weeks. Truth is, having banned myself from tumour-related blogging, I subsequently found I had little else on my mind. Furthermore, this turns out to be the busy season, and I deemed the blog to be rather less deserving of my attentions than either work or my wife. If it’s any consolation, I never found any time to get on with watching my Heroes boxset either…

Even now I’m not entirely sure what to write. I’m not convinced the next week is looking any more free than the last – quite the opposite – so, whilst some may still be checking this page I guess I just want to put a couple of things down for the record.

 

God is being good. I always thought this was something people said through gritted teeth during tough times, whilst in reality wondering why He was being quite so harsh. However, in our case at least He really really is. I won’t go into details and contravene my own rules, but many prayers have been answered of late in our lives – things are changing in a way I wouldn’t have previously deemed possible. Once all this is over, I’ll write all about it properly.

 

Something has occurred to me though. We often pray for healing and deliverance (I certainly have) when illness and troubles rear their head. It is an understandable impulse, but it can reflect our own self-centred plans and perceptions. In reality, such hopes are perhaps seeking to opt out of that character-building and perseverance the Bible associates with seasons of suffering. In looking to bypass the difficult times we may be asking to miss out on those experiences that do most to forge our faith. Likewise, the ‘event healings’ that we presume would most glorify God, were they to occur, might in some cases prove a sideshow from the real witness of living faithfully in a fallen and frustrating world with eyes set firm upon Him.

 

God is being good. There has been more exciting progress made in our marriage, our friendships, our walk with God and our evangelism to others in the past month than in the whole of last year lived three times over. I want to make clear, lest anyone mistake this radio silence for a spiritual lull or bemused loss for words, that I’m grateful to Him, I trust in Him… and that I’m currently being given plenty of reasons to do so!

 

UNRELATED PS: How’s this for more material to come… I have a job interview on Wednesday. At a Catholic school…

WHAT DO I LOOK LIKE?

I WORE NO HAIR GEL TO SCHOOL YESTERDAY!! ‘So what’ I hear you ask. Well read on dear reader, and realise the scale of my achievement! I wrote this a few weeks back and was, frankly, embarrassed to publish it. Which is normally the best reason for publishing…

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So, there I am. That’s a blurry depiction of what I look like – as recorded by my mobile phone. I’ve had times when I would have given a great deal to have looked different. Now, I’ve got to a point, having just passed my 30th birthday, where I will at least admit it could be worse, as well as plenty better! But how should we, as Christians, regard our appearance? Moreover, how are we coping within an ever more image obsessed culture, where we’ll often be judged more by our looks than our character? As my wife faces the particular risks associated with considering removing a tumour attached to her facial nerve, I consider this issue of our relationship with our ‘looks’ particularly worth discussing.

 

I generally challenge myself on here to maintain honesty, even if it makes me look foolish. Well, there’s no subject more likely to fulfil that aim than me analysing the relationship I have with my own appearance. It’s just not the done thing! In churches we are happy for our women to have self-image issues but, for blokes… with my mates I may talk about my thought life, my prayer life, my sex life even, but the statement ‘I don’t feel very attractive’?! Well it would surely provoke the most awkward of silences. What are they supposed to say, after all? Even so, this is the fact I want to face. I have grown up within a supremely image-fixated society, and I sometimes believe the issues I’ve had with what I see in my mirror have done more than I’d ever like to credit to shape the person I’ve become. Now, following my 30th I can no longer pretend to be a young man… it’s all downhill from here physically-speaking! I think, therefore, it’s probably time to make peace with my appearance, and to consider how to do such a thing from a Christian perspective.

 

I was always short, skinny and ‘kinda funny-looking’ (still am!), to quote the movie Fargo. Ah, let’s get more honest than that… I was a big head on a puny body – my nose, ears, big eyes… I sometimes felt like every single feature God gave me lent itself to playground taunts. I wasn’t unpopular and I was able to treat most banter as intended, developing a nice line in self-depreciation. However, following a lifetime of nicknames based on fictional non-human characters, I did genuinely believe myself to look somehow less than human. I did absolutely presume that any laughter I heard in public was at the expense of my appearance. And, whilst I’m aware I have ‘normalised’ slightly as adolescence has become but a (now distant!) memory, my self-image has been complicated further by the fact I have an improbably attractive wife – years of assuming everyone’s first reaction to be wondering quite how I managed to bat so far ‘above my average’ and what’s in it for her.

 

What effect has it had on me? Well, ironically, I’m guilty of vanity. I’m far more vain than I should be as a Christian man with a keen sense of this world’s futility. I’m subconsciously desperate to make the best of what I see as a bad lot; being honest, I’d rather miss church than attend it without wearing hair gel! Don’t worry, I’m well aware of how ridiculous that is… It has also led to me over-compensating in terms of my personality. If the first impression is made with the eyes then you’d better bet the second impression, the one I can control, will try and make up for it. In addition, I may not have angry short-man syndrome, but I definitely am more competitive than is good for me. I have a burning desire to outdo those whose default setting may be to look down their nose at me.

 

And how does my desire to be godly impact upon all this? Well, I am a loved, valued, planned part of God’s creation. I am made in His image and chosen by Him for salvation. It is not for me to deem His efforts unsatisfactory! ‘God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple’ Paul says in 1 Corinthans 3. Regarding vanity, 2 Timothy 3 places ‘lovers of self’ among the ranks of ‘detestable’ sinners. Our eyes should be focused on Christ, not on ourselves – in Matthew 16:24 he said that ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’. So yes I need to get over it. Especially as I am not particularly accursed – sure, the modelling contract is unlikely to be in the post, but neither am I deformed… indeed my beautiful wife considers me attractive, for reasons I will never grasp but remain grateful for nonetheless. The sin I’m actually most guilty of is covetousness. Envying another man’s height, physique or looks is no different in effect to envying his house or car. It is to place my hopes in false idols; it is me expressing a lack of faith and dissatisfaction for the blessings God has bestowed upon me. And he knows best. It would clearly do me no favours were I required to suppose every woman I encountered was tempted to throw herself my way!

 

So, as I have said on a number of occasions through this forum, enough already! Time to grow up. Time to take the events of this strange week as a decisive reminder that the standards and values of this world are not all important or even close to it. It is better that I am more righteous than that I am more attractive. It is better that I am saved than… well anything! If you see me at church with fluffy bowl-head hair, then I really have come of age!          

HOLDING MY TONGUE

Openness has always been my thing. A perusal of this blog should confirm that I rarely hold much in reserve. However, I’m now changing that habit of a lifetime. On all matters tumour-related I am going to keep shtum for a while following this.

I have been advised to do so by those wiser than me who have earned the right to be listened to.  It has been suggested to me that I might come to regret splurging my thoughts to an audience of, well, anyone when it comes to the difficult times ahead. It is, after all, my wife rather than I who has to endure the brunt of this journey and she doesn’t even read the blog (she gets enough of my self-analysis at home!), less still chooses what to divulge. Furthermore, it may appear exploitative to treat these happenings as an opportunity to produce material… and somewhat false – to be constantly striving to present a reasonably stated trust in God’s purposes, however true, whilst neglecting to represent that private part of me that screams panic!

So, as a final word on the matter. the appointment with the neuro-surgeon made clear that things were worse and more pressing than imagined (although not immediately life-threateningly so). Major brain surgery almost certainly awaits in the next few months and where that takes us… well I’ll write all about it with hindsight I’m sure. For now, your well-wishes are much appreciated – keep praying and supporting and I’ll continue writing, albeit on matters of slightly less immediate significance!

20 OBSERVATIONS ABOUT 2009 SO FAR…

My year thus far. It starts quite negatively, but persist – it ends quite cheery!!

1. TUMOUR: My wife’s benign brain tumour is clearly the biggest news of the year thus far. It is horrible and scary considering brain surgery… Even so, it is with far more than token acknowledgement that I claim that God WILL use this for the good. I have already seen it in terms of the strengthening of our marriage, the strengthening of friendships, the strengthening of trust in Him. Even so, I really wish it wasn’t happening! (Sorry God…)

2. HEALING: A big challenge to us as UK evangelicals. It is the gut reaction of those in our church to pray for my wife’s ‘strength’ (generally spiritual), rather than for her ‘healing’. To some Christians this would seem bizarre. We are so keen not to give false expectations to believers, to stray into ‘wealth & health’ territory or to see Christianity as initiation into the Magic Circle. But are we exhibiting too little faith? James 5 states that ‘prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well’… but also of ‘patience in the face of suffering’, so we’ll see… I’d be grateful if you’d join me in praying that the tumour would indeed shrink.

3. ANKLE: This takes me to my own ‘suffering’. Less worrisome than the above, to be sure, but my unhealing ankle ligament damage, sustained before Christmas, has significantly impacted upon my year thus far. No more chats with Tom en route to the weekly football; no more joining my wife for weekend runs; no more active lifestyle at all in fact… I pray that I too am learning patience, but if so it’s sub-conscious!!

4. 30th BIRTHDAY: Maybe it’s all tied up in this! Five years ago my ankle would have healed. Of that I’m sure. I guess these things can no longer be taken so for granted. Me being me, my birthday has unleashed a dizzying bout of self-analysis. Society says stay young, but I crave maturity, responsibility and progress, albeit whilst still being mistaken for a sixth-former at school! God has been kind to me – I have a saving faith, a wife, a home I own and a career, so I could face this artificial landmark with a certain calm. Not to say I won’t moan about these very blessings! Read on…

5. CAREER: Tumour aside, the worst thing about the year thus far has been the continuation of the annual saga entitled ‘Andy fails to get a new job’. I fear I must learn not to uphold myself by worldly standards. I’d better not, because the sad truth is I have made remarkably little progress as a teacher, whether by promotion or by moving to a better school. I know I have the potential to do more, and that I am a better teacher than some above me. But God wants me where I am for now, so I’d better get on with it!

6. THE FLAT: And as for this… it’s hard to explain how negative I feel about our material home. The next item (Debt) will be largely explained by having bought a flat – having been forced to have it damp-proofed, double-glazed, having bought the freehold and done the bathroom… only to be told that we need new floors, new plastering and that, even with all that, the flat has devalued since we bought it. We don’t have funds or practical skills (at all!). I would love to host more and to stop fretting about where this home-owning saga takes us. 2009 has not gone well in this respect!

7. DEBT: This is the shame I bear. We have been unwise at times. Savings don’t exist. Debt is significant. In this current climate it’s horrible because you’re always one redundancy or vengeful credit card company away from disaster. True faith in God is required, as well as gratitude for all we have (and it’s a lot!), but I would love to be debt-free.

8. ECCLESIASTES: Reading this in my Quiet Times was fascinating. What’s it doing there? It is so deeply cynical and depressed in tone that even the NIV Study Notes don’t seem to have a clue what to do with it much of the time! But that said, I found it massively heartening. Hope placed in anything other than Christ is ultimately ‘meaningless’. This is the alternative – and we have the answer to it!

9. JOY: As seen for much of the above, I am a real worrier (and moaner) – increasingly so as I leave my youth behind! I have a wife who can take it personally and so I need not to let it become my norm. I have begun forcing myself to acknowledge those things I am grateful for each day. Largely by…

10. DIARISATION: If it’s not enough that I record minutely my Quiet Time content and blog my every other thought, I have this year begun keeping a record of what I did each day, perhaps to enforce some accountability in not wasting my time. I want to ensure I’m seeing friends, going places… and to be able to thank God for those recorded daily blessings! It works as I’m normally grateful for most of what I’ve written down. Lets look at a couple…

11. MOVIES: I won’t say much, as when I blogged about it no-one read! My wife and I have long since been movie addicts. The surprise has been that, as I try to watch them more with God-goggles on, I find I’ve been enjoying them more! I do like to consider character motives and lessons learned… seeing how a worldview compares with our own. Turns out God isn’t a kill-joy after all!

12. FOOD: Thank God that my wife has developed a passion for working her way through the latest Jamie Oliver cook-book! Now here’s a discovery – my spiritual regime very much benefits from a general sense of physical well-being. Attempts to eat my 5-a-day, particularly with an increased fruit intake, and to eat decent satisfying meals have resulted in me feeling far more ready to do something fruitful (ha!) with my days. I have more energy and a sharper focus for sure.

13. THE SPIRITUAL ‘REGIME’: The biggest difference in my year. On the plus side it has been enormously beneficial. I have instilled a lot more discipline in 2009. I am working to devised plans regarding the gospel-exposure of my non-Christian friends, have subscribed to Christian blogs, have given more time to Quiet Times and have listened to a sermon a day on the way to work. But there’s a major down-side. I am utterly routine dependent. As shown by the snow days, it utterly falls apart without that set window before work and the journey there. Too many of my good habits, behaviour-wise, are caught up in this dependence.

14. LUST: I remain a keen admirer of the female form. The impulse is correct. But not acting upon that impulse in a sinful fashion continues to be the biggest challenge faced by the Christian bloke, particularly within a society determined to rub our faces in it. To be frank, half of my routine is designed to prevent me from fixating upon sex and the allure of the fairer species. God certainly designed me to be a married man…

15. VS THE ATHEISTS: Remember this? (Read here) What fun it was – and great encouragement. Christianity is robust enough to withstand rigorous intellectual to & fro. I will certainly return for another bout before the year is done!

16. CHRISTIANITY EXPLORED: This deliberately follows the last point. I now view my Adventures in the Blogosphere against the atheist fraternity as being God’s training for me leading a ‘guest’ group over the Christianity Explored programme currently running at CCB in lieu of ‘normal’ church. Questions have arisen of all shapes & sizes. Some I’ve dealt with well, some badly… but I have rarely met the entirely unexpected. I feel like I rehearsed… It’s been great to directly espouse the virtue of the gospel each week… Church shouldn’t be a hiding place after all!

17. BLOG: And of course there’s been this! It’s a strange old business – the time I have spent writing these thousands of words – for an audience often smaller than you could possibly imagine! Why not just e-mail those few I know are reading? Why write at all? Well it’s good to have a reason to set out thoughts – it’s good to challenge myself to see how the events of my life and the world around me come under my walk with God. If no-one at all was reading I would still have benefitted from committing to this blog. But that’s not to say I’d carry on doing it! So please keep reading!! And maybe, just maybe, I’ll discover one day in the next world that I wrote something God used for someone I don’t even know… That is always the tantalising possibility in the anonymity of cyber-space…

18. WASTING TIME: I need to do some marking! I’m not going to concoct artificial points just to get it to 20!

19. OR AM I? It would seem so…

20. THE END… Well done for making it this far down the post!

ST. JADE THE BRAVE

THOUGHTS VAGUELY RELATING TO HELL Part 2 (Part 1 Here)

 

“Why does everyone suddenly love someone if they die young?”

 

So asked a GCSE student during a lesson last week. We were talking about JFK at the time – a largely unpopular President whom everyone pretended to have voted for and supported following his tragic assassination at the hands of killers unknown (ooh, controversial!) – but I’m sure he was also thinking of reality TV star Jade Goody, recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. The transformation of this young woman in the eyes of the press has truly been astonishing to behold. No longer the racist; no longer the shamelessly talent-free ‘reality TV’ attention-seeker, ridiculed for her lack of intelligence or obscene antics… Now she is ‘Brave Jade’, ‘Jade the Hero’. Why? Because she is about to die. Neither is she alone in this metamorphosis. Her fiancé – the convicted criminal who cheated on her – is now her knight in shining armour, giving her the fairy-tale wedding she ‘deserves’; whilst her friends and bridesmaids are ‘angels’, at least according to the front page of the Mirror.

 

Now let’s get this straight. I am not lacking compassion. I was as shocked and saddened as anyone else vaguely acquainted with Jade through the media when I heard that this young woman was set to leave her children motherless. It reminds us that death is an aberration; that death is a curse… But it will happen to all of us – every one (Second Coming notwithstanding!). So the question IS valid – why do we deify those afflicted early? Why do they get painted in these fairytale colours we all know to be absurd? Well the answer I came up with in class was imperfect, but I was still pleased enough with it to come home and write about it! It ran roughly as follows.

 

Despite how it may seem, most people are NOT atheists. Most people are agnostic or are uncommitted theists of various degrees, actively choosing, under usual circumstances, to not think about the things that really matter. Death terrifies the world as it forces them to confront big possibilities they’ve been running from – possibilities like judgement and punishment, perhaps on an eternal scale. This is, frankly, too much. Hell is unthinkably frightening. Not just for Jade, but for everyone. Therefore, the whitewash begins. In a matter of months or weeks, the tabloids, as one, will be writing of how Jade is ‘in heaven’, ‘looking down’ upon her children. In order for this to work, they first need to wipe her slate clean – purge her of her sins and ‘fit her for Heaven, to live with Thee there’, to quote a popular carol! Man is trying to take the place of God once again.

 

I’m not sure there’s a great deal more to say here, other than to state the obvious: Jade needs to place her faith in Jesus if she is to meaningfully assuage, in any way, the fear she must be experiencing right now. As for the tabloid audience – they need to realise that death doesn’t make someone a ‘hero’… they should realise we’re all destined for that same path, and try therefore to work out honestly how to prepare for the possibility that they will one day face their creator. They will, I’m sure, feel far from heroic once the day arrives.