Tag Archives: bible

Marked

Fast-paced, terrifying… this graphic re-imagination of the gospel of Mark in a contemporary fictional setting is clever and deep. The people are blinded and demon-possessed. Jesus can change them, but they don’t, for the most part, have the eyes to see.

It could almost be real life (ironic, eh?). And therein lies the skill with which Ross retells the gospel story, albeit in a way you might not, at first, recognise.

The preface cautions that pictures often denude a text. If you have the opposite problem when it comes to the Bible, finding it hard to get a sense of the power and the challenge of the person of Jesus from traditional translations, or if you need reminding about what it must have been like to have him burst into the first century cultural setting, then this might just be a good place for you to start.

Loved it.

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Wise words for Spin Doctors?

Alastair Campbell doesn’t “do” God. However, Blogging about his appearance yesterday at the Iraq Inquiry, he says:

Among the private messages I got in advance were some from former Iraqi exiles I mentioned in my evidence, some of whom are now back in Iraq and say despite all the problems their country without Saddam is a better place and one where democracy is beginning alongside, by their standards, normal life.

I am amazed too how many people, though they know I don’t do God, sent me passages from the Bible. As I walked through the media scrum on the way in, and on the way out, and listened to some of the overblown and agenda driven commentary, I was glad to have read in the morning an email with Psalm 56 attached … ‘What can mortal man do to me?’ it asks ‘All day long they twist my words, they are always plotting to harm me. They conspire, they lurk, they watch my steps, eager to take my life…’ I never detected a death plot among the British media, but the rest of it sums up the Westminster lobby to a tee.

And no, I’m still not doing God, but as Neil Kinnock once said to me, I sometimes think it’s a shame we’re atheists, because some of the best lines are in the good book.

It seems even spin doctors find comfort in the Bible. Campbell might not believe in God, but it seems maybe God still believes in him…

hat tip: Church Mouse

Signposts to simplicity

keep_it_simplePosts last week handled some big questions. Mulling them over I started to think maybe it’d be safer to lock myself in my room all day; there’s a big old pile of stuff we can do that upsets God, and even when we try to get it right, there’s a risk we’re getting it wrong. So today, some signposts to a simpler side of life.

I’m bothered about interpreting the bible correctly. Here’s an alternative view:

… we should be trying to work out how to read the bible well rather than reading the text right.”

Paula Gooder

Maybe as long as I’m open to what God wants to say to me, I can cut the paranoia about “right” reading a little.

I still worry about all the stuff I might end up doing wrong, though… What about that?

Let’s shut the door and block out sin!

“Then how”, says Truth, “shall I get in?”

Rabindranath Tagore

Aah. A little irony, and a ring of truth. Perhaps seeing as Jesus offers me “life, and life to the full” I should grab it by the horns and enjoy the ride. Sure, I’m scared I’ll mess up, and of course I will mess up. That’s what I have a conscience for – warning me as I veer off down the wrong track. But God shows up in all the best stuff in life, whether we recognise it or not.

Apparently C. S Lewis once received a letter from a worried mother whose son (aged 9) had read the Chronicles of Narnia. The boy was feeling bad because he felt he loved Aslan (the lion hero of the story) more than Jesus. Lewis replied that they didn’t need to worry:

“For the things he loves Aslan for doing or saying are simply the things that Jesus really did and said. So that when Laurence thinks he is loving Aslan, he is really loving Jesus: and perhaps loving Him more than he ever did before”.

So for now, maybe I’ll try to quit worrying about getting stuff right, and just work on living well.

The Death Penalty: Just Deserts or Justice Deserted?

barsIn Texas yesterday another life ended in the USA’s most-used death chamber.

Khristian Oliver was 32 years old. He was declared dead 8 minutes after administration of a lethal injection.

In 1999 Oliver had been convicted of  a murder carried out in the course of a burglary. His victim was shot and beaten to death with the butt of a rifle. He accepted he carried out the shooting.

Texas is one of several US States to retain the death penalty for such cases. However, the decision to impose it on Oliver courted controversy. It was reported that during deliberations on sentencing, the jury brought biblical rather than purely state law into consideration. A juror allegedly read this aloud:

And if he smite him with an instrument of iron, so that he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death.” (Numbers 35:16)

Another juror later reported that about 80% of the jurors had brought scripture into their considerations, considering that if civil law and biblical law were at odds, biblical law should prevail. He’s reported to have said that if he had been told he could not consult the bible, “I would have left the courtroom.” Another said jurors looked to and took comfort from the bible in making their decision.

Oliver’s lawyers appealed on the basis that the Jury ought exclusively to have considered state law in reaching their decision, and that accordingly there had not been a fair trial. They were unsuccessful because although it was established that impermissible information (biblical law) had been taken into consideration, no prejudice had resulted given it had been established that a murder, for which the death penalty was open to the Jury under state law, had been committed.

The death penalty is something that seems to escape our attention much of the time in the UK. It’s not something we think about very much. According to Washington’s Death Penalty Information Centre, there were 3297 convicts on Death Row in January 2009. Between January and October, 42 people were executed. Forty two human lives ended at the hand of the state.

Reflecting on Oliver’s death I’m troubled. I have questions.

How does a “Christian” state justify the death penalty? Can it?

Anyone can pick and verse from the Old Testament to justify a position, but what does Jesus have to say about this situation? What’s the effect of the new covenant on this Old Testament teaching? And what of Jesus teaching here:

Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously. (Matt 5:38-42)

Where is the interface of justice and mercy here? We’re exhorted “to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God“. Is this the face of doing so?

Transsexual Jesus?

JQH02web-sendOver 300 people demonstrated outside the Tron theatre in Glasgow last night over the depiction in Jo Clifford’s new play of Jesus as a transsexual woman.

My view… I’m not about to join the crowd who were penning hate-fuelled placards, that’s for sure.

First though, let’s be clear. Was Jesus transsexual? Highly unlikely. In the 4 accounts of his life (the gospels) Jesus is consistently and exclusively portrayed as a fully human male.

However, do I think God is male? No. Does God transcend sexuality? Yes. God is triune (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). John’s gospel starts by explaining (describing Jesus) that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning”. Jesus lived on earth as a man around 2000 years ago, but he existed before then, at the creation of the earth, and he continues to live today, one interdependent part of the trinity. For another modern characterisation of God you need go no further than a (fabulous) book like The Shack to have your preconceptions challenged.

Is the play intended to cause offense? I haven’t seen it, so take all of this with that caveat, but I don’t think so. According to an interview with Clifford in the Scotsman:

“Jesus, Queen of Heaven, which portrays Jesus as a transsexual woman and has been condemned by elements of the Christian community, is “about rescuing Jesus from the fundamentalists”. But it’s also about Clifford’s pride in being transgendered; she insisted on performing the role herself. Her honesty is striking and within minutes I get a one-woman show of her memoirs, starting from the beginning, Clifford peppering her lines with laughter and relishing the story of her own life.

It’s taken her a long time to get here. “There is an awful lot of hostility towards transgendered people,” she says softly. “I’d internalised a lot of that and was terribly ashamed. I was ashamed for most of my life.” These feelings formed the subject matter of a play Clifford wrote in 2002, when she still was identified as John, called God’s New Frock. The new play is the sequel. “God’s New Frock was partly an autobiographical piece about growing up transgendered and trying to suppress it,” she explains. “The story I told was of me and God in parallel.”

There’s a trailer for God’s new frock here. It looks to me more like an autobiographical attempt to understand how Jesus relates to a personal situation than anything else. Or am I wrong? I’m open to suggestions as to how else I should look at it.

No doubt there are those who will discard both plays out of hand as blasphemous. Maybe they’re right; I’m not sure. Even if I was, I don’t think shouting it down would be helpful. Building relationships and getting round the table to work through an issue isn’t usually facilitated by reciprocal insult-slinging.

What I do think is that it’s complicated. I think there’s something to be said for Clifford’s desire to “rescue Jesus from the fundamentalists”. We (and I mean everyone, but maybe especially people of faith, who seem to think we can claim “right” understanding of the Bible) need to consider what it is we know about God through the Bible very carefully. I do believe that objective truth is there to be had, but the Bible is a complex ancient collection of texts, and must be recognised as such.

I was privileged to hear and be challenged by a gay bishop, Gene Robinson talk on the subject of our biblical understanding of sexuality earlier this year at Greenbelt. It was interesting to hear just how persuasively he made the case for the alternative to the mainstream evangelical view.  It encouraged me to reflect on how easy it is for us to twist (in many different directions) the Bible’s teaching to fit our cultural norms. God’s Word needs and deserves to be handled with care, respect, and with a realisation of our potential to twist it. For those of faith – in which I include myself – that means being self-aware, studious, careful and most of all prayerful in considering what God wants me to understand from scripture.

The other thing that strikes me as I ponder Clifford’s interview and the trailer for God’s New Frock is (yet again) how sad it is that the best we seem to be able to do as a Christian community is to react to things in such a way that, as Jesus’ followers, we’re viewed as judgmental and exclusive rather than loving and accepting of people for who they are. I struggle to see how protesting outside the Tron fits with following Jesus’ example. Surely we can learn to love better than that.

Living it?

practice

A minister got up to do his sermon. He said ‘love one another’ and sat back down. Some were very annoyed at this while others were perhaps delighted. The next week he did the same thing. He said ‘love one another’ and sat back down. As before, some were annoyed and others were pleased. He repeated this performance week after week, until those who were angry before were now raging and even the ones who were previously happy were somewhat perplexed.

Eventually, one week, after the rather short sermon, a furious member of the congregation piped up. ‘what sort of joke is this!? week after week the same few words… what are you playing at!?’

The minister responded calmly. ‘when I see signs that we have really grasped what it means to love one another, we’ll move on.’

Thought provoking. How often can we really say we’re living this stuff we hear? Big challenge.

 Thanks to Asbo Jesus for the cartoon and JonBirch for the story.

Stop the world: resting easy.

sleeping-commuter-1I’m at the end of a week of holiday. I had big plans – a bunch of studying to catch up on; a load of “life admin” to do; commitments to people; and all those things I said last month I’d sort out tomorrow.  

But d’you know what? Cramming every minute of every day full of places to go, things to do and people to see is – for me at least – miles from being the answer. It makes me buzz, sure, but it also does a great job of slowly draining the life out of me.

At the start of this week I couldn’t muster much enthusiasm for anything, God included. So instead I’ve done nothing. No studying. No life admin. No work. I actually can’t remember the last time I did so little – really. Maybe not for 10 years.

A small part of me wonders if this is lazy, and starts the guilt routine, but I’m resolved to fight it. Stopping is biblical. Once again the big black book I thought had nothing to say to my life has practical import. It reminds me I need to stop sometimes – it’s how I was made.  Nature has in-built patterns of rest and growth in the seasons themselves. More directly, God thinks rest is so important that he made doing it one of the “Big 10” .

Jesus rested too. Sure, he worked and he travelled, he partied and he taught, but he also took time out to be alone, to get some peace and to be quiet with God. He had some advice on the subject: 

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly”. – Matthew 11:28-30

I tried it out this week. I can report that it’s been great. I have not been struck down by a thunderbolt for temporarily abandoning my work ethic. I have had time to watch how Jesus does things; to reflect on living with God rather than for him; to spend time on whatever has happened to cross my mind. Has it been a waste? I don’t think so.

I could tell you the details, but probably that should stay between me and God. Instead I’ll just say this: give it a try. Take some real, extended down time.  In our busy world, with our busy lives, simply doing that might be the hardest part.  But  let yourself stop, and listen out for God in the quiet. I believe you’ll be pleasantly surprised.