Friday, April 28, 2006

Merely a Private Matter?

Today Gordon Brown has defended John Prescott, under pressure because the press have reported that he has been unfaithful to his wife - conducting an affair with a secretary.

The chancellor has offered the usual line of defence in these instances, "its a purely private matter". But is that actually the case? I think that personal relationships are indeed private, and usually nothing to do with the press or the public. However the situation is different when it involves marriage. Marriage is not a private matter - but a public contract, made before witnesses and the law (and frequently invoking God too). Whether someone has honoured or dishonoured a public commitment can be many things -but surely not "private".

That is not to say that someone who has erred cannot continue in public office; history tells us that many great statesmen's personal lives were less than exemplary. What it does mean is that "he is doing a good job" is a reasonable line of defense to try to advance, as a person can be judged on their record. However when it comes to marriage, "it's a private matter" just doesn't work.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Quote of the Day

R. H. Strachan commented, on the act of Jesus washing the disciples' feet in John 13:1-4.

"...the great truth that this divine self-consiousness of Jesus, confronted by the final assault of the devil directed through his instrument Judas, manifested itself not in a sovereign display of omnipotence, but in an amazing act of self-humiliation."

Book Note: The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work by Darrell Cosden

I'm 2 chapters into this little book at the moment. I have had a couple of modules from the author at college, and as he is always so thought-provoking (not to mention provocative and controversial!) in lectures I assumed that his writing would be as well. So far I have not been dissapointed, although I have to say he is more irenic in print than in person!

The book sets out to demolish hierachical and dualistic thinking amongst Christians; in order make daily work part of our Christian mission in the world. In the introductory chapters he assaults traditional understandings of "soul-only" salvation; and points toward the rest of the book in which he will argue that the so-called 'mundane' aspects of our lives can equally be saved and gain eternal significance.

In order to do this he is going to examine key biblical passages and theological debates; and establish an eschatology based more on continuity and renewal than on complete abolition and reconstruction. (This will also have important implications for environmental theology).

Is our earthly work, (when done for, and with God), only of use in terms of being the context in which we forge relationships with God and others, or is it of eternal intrinsic worth? I have always just assumed the former. I'm interested to see if Darrell can persuade me of the latter.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

More than Balance Required

As someone involved in Bible teaching in the church, I resolve to do the following:
Preach free grace until they accuse me of antinomianism; and preach discipleship until I am accused of legalism!
It's just not enough to strike a balance between the two and sell each absolute short.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Eight Hundred Miles and Forty-One Words

We've just arrived home from an Eight-hundred mile round trip to my brother-in-law's wedding, which was held at the remarkable Treowen House, near Monmouth in Wales. They filled this lovely ancient house with friends and family for the weekend to celebrate their marriage and formally exchange the forty-one words that constitute the civil wedding contract in British law. Around those required legalities they devised a lovely ceremony that captured both the seriousness of and the joy of marriage, and the heartfelt lifelong commitment that the vows taken demand. The ceremony, with its music, poetry, vows and words was moving in the way that it reflected both those values, as well as the people getting married. The celebrations continued with a great meal (Venison cooked in red wine!) and an evening of chat, log fires and an absolutely brilliant jazz band.

I haven't been to a civil wedding for a few years and was intrigued by it. Obviously with our faith, we didn't choose a secular wedding when we got married ten years ago - but that doesn't mean we couldn't fully enter into the spirit of this wedding or were any less thrilled for them. In fact every word said and sung in the ceremony was excellent and meaningful. Unlike the previous civil ceremony I went to, the celebrant and registrar were excellent and were really personal in their approach. I wouldn't have wanted them to take away anything that was said or promised on Tuesday.

My theological perspective (with which you have every right to disagree!) is that marriage is a gift of God (as distinct from merely an evolutionary convenient arrangement) whether you acknowledge Him or not! So, while I cheered out loud and shouted 'hooray' as we celebrated love and commitment on Tuesday, in my heart there was an echoed Amen! We all wished them a long and happy life together - I hope they'll forgive the fact that I prayed it too.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006


Today Boris has invented a new word, "mopelo". Where we live, transatlantic flights pass thousands of feet above us, leaving white trails of vapour in lines accross the sky. These, as of today, are "mopelo's".

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Days of Dung

Time spent at home with Boris, Noris and Doris is usually a fairly entertaining experience. Today however, I am trapped here as two of my three delightful little offspring have tummy bugs and are puking and pooing their way through a malodorous day of dung-digging, poo-portering, crap-carrying and any other alliteration you care to add. All plans to take them for a day out in the spring sunshine have been cancelled in favour of tummy cramps and sprints to the toilet - some of which we make on time.

I am also learning that there must be some hidden art to washing puke out of babies’ hair, without missing great chunks behind the ears - which I clearly haven't mastered yet. The other skill I need to acquire is the observational power to notice such infant hygiene blunders and not leave them for immediate discovery by said child's (stressed) mother upon her return from work.

My father-in-law is a farmer - and as such is well acquainted with dung of various species, types, textures and odours. He collects it, he spreads it, he drives tractors through it and has even been known to wear it. All this without murmur or complaint! The thought of changing a human nappy though, fills him with complete horror and disgust - to the point that he never has done one, despite rearing a large herd of humans himself. I think I'm beginning to see where he's coming from......

Book Notes: A Bitter Revolution

I'm currently reading "A Bitter Revolution: China's Struggle with the Modern World" by Rana Mitter. My contacts with the Chinese Fellowship in Dundee made me interested to find out more about their history. Then I wisely listened to the counsel of Dr Stumpy Greenisland who pointed out that an astonishing array of cheap books is made available from Oxford University Press in their annual sale. When the OUP e-mail arrived earlier this year, this fascinating book was listed at a most aluring bargain price.

I have read the first third, about the 19th and early 20th century assaults upon the hierachical Confucian worldview which had dominated China for centuries, including Nationalism, capitalism, individualism, Christianity, colonialism, and communism. The book also looks at some of the social patterns which reflect this breakdown of the traditional order, women's rights, family structure, publishing and journalism, and political engagement - much of it told through some specific individuals and groups used to illustrate wider trends (within the so-called "May 4th Era"). Lines of continuity and contrast through the various movements are also helpfully outlined.

I can't really evaluate the stuff I'm learning as this is the only text on Chinese history I've read. However the writers blind acceptance that Christian mission work was the ideological component of the Opium-war-fighting British empire was dissapointing. The self-aggrandising aims of the opium traders and the self-impoverishment of so many of the missionaries should have been enough to demand a more nuanced view of this subject. The relationship between these two elements of westernisation was more complex than Mitter allows, and the writers prejudice at this point outruns his research. This however has been a minor criticism in comparison with the wealth of other stuff I have been learning.

On now to discover how Maoism emerged victorious.........

Monday, April 10, 2006

Am I a Hypocrite?

I spoke at church yesterday on the hypocrisy of the Palm Sunday crowd in Jerusalem, who proclaimed Jesus as Messiah on Sunday, but within a week demanded his execution. The point of such follies being in scripture are not so that we can judge them (and feel smug), rather that we judge ourselves and make sure that our profession of faith is not merely temporary, convenient, and hypocritical - as we are swept along in a crowd; but real.

How then can I know that my profession of faith is genuine? In short, how can I know that I am saved? I used an old formula to answer this question. It comes in the form of 3 tests.

Test One - the all important test

1) Have I truly 'come to an end of myself' through conviction of sin and cast myself entirely and exclusively on Christ? If so, I am saved by faith alone. (John 3:16)
Test Two - the subjective evidence

2) If I am really a Christian I will be learning to discern the Holy Spirit's inner witness. (Romans 8:16), and know His guidance through my life (Romans 8:14). However if we grieve or quench the Spirit we will be denied this blessing!
Test Three - the objective evidence

3) If I am truly a Christian I will observably be in the process of being changed by God, fruit, character, priorities. "A good tree produces good fruit" said Jesus. Not that perfection is required, just evidence that God is at work in us.

It is important to distinguish between the 1st test and the other two. The first test is about becoming a Christian, the other is merely evidence of it. If we find that we are not genuinely Christian the solution is not to be found in seeking experiences or doing works but in coming to the foot of the cross and trusting Jesus. Because here is cleansing, forgiveness, and assurance based not on presumption but on the promises of God in Christ, and His ability to save. "Bold I approach he eternal throne" says Wesley's hymn.

Monday Reinstated

Thanks to the loan of a camera from young Boris..

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

I Hate Soaps

I Hate Soaps, by which I mean the nightly televisual feast upon which the nation gorges, not the bodily cleansing stuff, with which I am more personally aquainted than some of you might imagine.

Why is it that normal, pleasant, friendly, yea intelligent people, allow their brains to be mauled by the third-rate ratings-chasing fodder that is 'Enders, Corrie and the like? Poor stories, weak acting, drawn-out repetative endings, stereotypes and cliches abounding, contrived cliff-hangers, and sensationalist claptrap they undeniably rejoice in, but far worse than this is their sheer banality and mind-numbing futility.

Yet, normally clear-thinking, sensible people are drawn in and their craniums deprived of adequate profusion by the tedium of soap. The 'need for escapism after a hard day' argument is a poor excuse, because the soaps seem to poison the minds of the unsuspecting even on holiday!

My theory is that soap addiction can only be explained because the stories are immediately accessible and full of human drama, and require absolutely no mental engagement. However they lure the uncritical in by steadily eroding the critical faculties of the viewer until they are unable to separate the wheat from the chaff. The moderately addicted actually start to become emotionally engaged with the story-lines, while hard-core users have even been known to be unable to separate fact from fiction, actor from character.

Soap-watchers beware, your short life is dripping, second-by-second down the drain of eternity! Your mind is being numbed, minute-by-minute. Press the off-switch on the telly, before it presses the off button of your mind.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Monday Cancelled

My camera has given up on me. Not slightly, not partially - but completely. New batteries failed to elicit any response from the wretched thing. So, Monday has been cancelled as a result.