I’ve got a problem. But it’s not the sort of problem that you’re going to have much sympathy for. In fact, it’s not the sort of problem that you’re allowed to have much sympathy for. Because my problem is that i’m far too privileged – for my own good or for anyone else’s good. Which is why, in this day and age, anything I say or claim will be subject to greater suspicion than what practically anyone else on the planet will say or claim. If you don’t believe me, check this succinct quote out from Gene Veith: Read more
I sometimes wonder whether the pendulum has swung too far. People are too quick to reduce societies to guilt- or shame-cultures, on the convenient premise that both concepts are relative and subjective. Thus we can evolve beyond such antediluvian notions. However, while it’s true that in western Protestantism we spend a great deal of time facing up to the realities of guilt (and rightly so, where it is genuine rather than subjective or self-imagined), what of shame? We can’t hide behind not being a shame-culture. Read more
Righteous anger is essential. I’d say there is nothing like enough of it about. But at the same time, I’d say there is far too much anger generally about. There is an important distinction. Trying to establish where it lies is, of course, the trick. You see, far too often, our anger says much more about our own state of mind than any objective problem or reality (whether it be at the macro political level or the micro domestic level).
Was reading a children’s book about anger the other day. Early on, the writers included a very interesting scenario to provoke some soul-searching. Read more
It’s easy to forget the psychobabble jargon that is now so part of everyday parlance had its origins in serious academic discourse. It’s pretty obvious when you stop to think about it, because all terms, metaphors and concepts must have their origins somewhere. It only takes a few decades or even years before what starts confined to the lecture room ends up on the street (whether the discipline be philosophy, theology, or psychology). What is scary is how many of the psychological assumptions that we take for granted today are built on such flimsy foundations. That is the main thrust of the first half of Glynn Harrison‘s important new book, The Big Ego Trip. Read more
Tom Wright wrote a bit of a blinder in the Guardian last week on the media’s apparent hypocrisy about hypocrisy – and he made some fair points. It certainly chimed with me at a number of levels, and I could certainly feel a post brewing. Jennie Pollock, however, gave a very thoughtful riposte on her blog, simply pointing out that church and media are not on a level playing field – the Church has an obligation to the Spirit to produce His fruit. She’s onto something there; I’m pretty sure she’s right to challenge Wright.
It is rather a tired Christmas cliché for preachers to go on about how we need to get beyond the tinsel and trimmings to the heart of Christmas – but one that sadly needs repeating. And while I love what Christmas is all about it, perhaps even more now than ever, it is interesting how different aspects strike home amidst all the familiarity and form. There’s no predicting what it’s going to be, if anything. But this year, I’ve been struck by how often the tradition pierces through the vacuous, trite and superficially jolly to engage with even the deepest hurts and doubts. Read more
This is an update of a talk I gave nearly 15 years ago to some students back in Sheffield. My aim was to help them avoid the classic polar mistakes of either avoiding the intellectual challenges of university or being swamped by them altogether. There are all kinds of other joys, opportunities and challenges when people first go to uni, and so intellectual development is only one aspect of what needs thinking about. But I fear it is often overlooked altogether.
Given the deeply traumatic nature of this book’s subject, this word seems entirely incongruous. But I can’t it out of my head as I try to sum up Emma Scrivener’s new book. And that’s the word beautiful. This is not because of a superficial or white-washed treatment. Far from it. In fact at times Emma is searingly, wincingly honest. And as she writes, we weep. Read more
It seems that mental health issues have been making headlines. The House of Commons even debated it a week or so ago, and Michael Wenham responded with a great little piece on EA’s Friday Night Theology. “Tell it how it is”, he simply concluded. And bizarrely enough (without the slightest inkling it would coincide so much with public square events), we had our next Christians Facing Issues service planned for last Sunday on the very issue. Having tackled all variety of things in the past (the Credit Crunch, Celebrity culture, Pornography, Euthanasia etc), this time our theme was Facing Up To Depression.
It was a joy to be able to spend a couple of hours with members of the CU at London’s University of the Arts on Thursday evening, giving a talk on this subject. Sarah Dargue has already done a really good job at summarising the key points over at the Interface Arts page (if you’re an arts student, definitely worth keeping an eye on that blog). But here is my talk outline, so that you can get some of the key quotes and references, plus my slides. Read more
Last Sunday, I was doing the next bit in our current little series on 2 Corinthians, and had the wonderful, and yet far too familiar (for many) passage of 2 Cor 4:16-5:10. It’s one of Paul’s great articulations of genuine, realistic Christian experience in a crazy and sometimes hostile world. Read more
It is a rare gift indeed to be able to evoke the confusions, perceptions and wonder of childhood from the perspectives of adulthood. And it is a gift that Ian Cron clearly possesses. His recent memoir (self-deprecatingly subtitled ‘of sorts’), Jesus, My Father, The CIA and Me, is a wonderful, life-affirming account of a deeply troubled and agonised family – but it is wonderful because it demonstrates hope in some very dark places indeed.
And for that reason alone, it is a book I would thoroughly recommend. Read more
It’s an ambiguous title. It can mean two very different things. Either I can’t stop myself (e.g.I have little self-control when it comes to resisting temptation, whatever that might be) or I can’t rescue myself (and I’m stuck). It seems to me that western culture is in denial about both. Control and autonomy are our post-Enlightenment mantras (in the name of personal freedom of course). And much to our frustration, neither are truly attainable. Read more
The news from Norway has defied words. Senseless, mindless, pointless; it is cruel, irrational evil. And supposedly in the name of Christ. Sickening.
I always resist to tweet or post about every event or topical twist and turn. I’m just not that kind of blogger, I guess. Read more
- Martin Bashir is interviewed about his interview of Rob Bell. I was particularly struck by his perception of what C S Lewis called chronological snobbery in contemporary theological debates – whereby those over a certain age (ie 30!) are dismissed out of hand.
- Ian Paul has offered a really helpful response to the BBC1 series Bible’s Buried Secrets
- A wonderful example of doing good to all – let’s hope it works in all senses… Christopher Hitchens and Francis Collins.
- And while we’re thinking about him, here’s a nice if brief interview with Francis Collins – quite old now (originally from 2007), but I’ve only just seen it.
- At the other end of of the spectrum, here is a list of the 25 most influential atheists (though quite how you measure influence is anyone’s guess)
- In case you missed it, here is the extraordinary testimony of Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s assassinated government minister: Read more
On 9th November, we had the terrible news from friends at All Souls. Emma and her Egyptian husband, Sherif, who only got married at All Souls in the summer, were travelling to Cairo to visit members of his family. She was immediately put back on the plane she had come in; Sherif was detained. Over the last couple of weeks, contact has been sporadic, mainly by email but one brief phone call.
I was asked to set up a campaigning website for them, and this is now live. The address is www.ReleaseSherif.com
On it we are posting:
- up to date information of Sherif’s situation
- letters that you can write to your MP, William Hague (UK Foreign Secretary) and the Egyptian Ambassador to the UK
- links to background information about the situation of human rights and persecution of the Egyptian church
PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE
- Pass the message around – we’ve set up a TWITTER hashtag: #ReleaseSherif – please follow this for more news
- Write letters to your MP and other key figures
- PRAY for Sherif to be released
I can’t now remember why I was there, but back in early 1989 I had a couple of hours to kill in Oxford (it was probably on a trip to get things sorted before going up to university). And I popped into Blackwells (left) one of the great meccas for all bibliophiles (though it has been knocked off my perch of personal favourites by Daunt Books in Marylebone High St).
I wandered around for a bit, and then noticed that there was quite a throng. I’d no idea what was going on, but in the great tradition of British (and Russian) shoppers, I saw the queue and so joined it. And it so happened that it was leading to a book-signing by the great Russian poet, Irina Ratushinskaya. I knew absolutely nothing about her, nor her circumstances. But nevertheless, I dutifully waited, purchased and had signed – here’s a pic of my copy of her small anthology Pencil Letter.
It’s hard to imagine the dark days of the cold war now. But when I had my book signed, the fall of the Berlin Wall was still months away and unimaginable. She was exiled in the mid 80s and speaking up for those still suffering back home – hence the book tour. I subsequently discovered that before leaving Russia, she was a courageous dissident and Christian believer – despite the fact that she ended up in a notoriously horrific Soviet labour camp, in which she suffered terrible malnutrition, torture, and nearly died.
Fortunately, she had learned how to memorise and write in such circumstances from the master Alexander Solzhenitsyn. She would use bars of soap, matchsticks and constant repetition in order to sustain her creative impulses and dutifully record the atrocities while enduring the camp’s so-called ‘small zone’. To give a taste, here’s the title poem from this book, written in the KGB cells in Kiev while waiting for her trial in November 1982. It lasts for several pages, but here is the opening section:
I know it won’t be received
Or sent. The page will be
In shreds as soon as I have scribbled it.
Later. Sometime. You’ve grown used to it,
Reading between the lines that never reached you,
Understanding everything. On the tiny sheet,
Not making haste, I find room for the night.
What’s the hurry, I find room for the night.
What’s the hurry, when the hour that’s passed
Is all part of the same time, the same unknown term.
The word stirs under my hand
Like a starling, a rustle, a movement of eyelashes.
Everything’s fine. But don’t come into my dream yet.
In a little while i will tie my sadness into a knot,
Throw my head back and on my lips there’ll be a seal,
A smile, my prince, although from afar.
Can you feel the warmth of my hand
Passing through your hair, over your hollow cheek.
December winds have blown on your face…
How thin you are.. Stay in my dream.
Open the window. The pillow is hot.
Footsteps at the door, and a bell tolling in the tower:
Two, three… Remember, you and I never said
Goodbye. It doesn’t matter.
Four o’clock… That’s it. How heavily it tolls.
Anyway, I was stimulated to take down her book from the shelf when leafing through Steve Turner’s poetry again the other day and came across this poem about her. Wonderful. A great homage to a great poet.
We beat her
and she lost weight
She lost blood.
She lost consciousness.
But she never lost hope.
She never lost poetry
And she was never lost.
You must have to beat real hard
to get the God
out of these people;to still the noise of heaven
in their hearts.
- This is so encouraging – the Africa Bible Commentary – now in Kiswahili
- Antony Billington gives another helpful list of 6 of the best: this time on handling different biblical genres.
- Neil Robbie has a nice venn diagram to illustrate what makes up good preaching (based on a seminar by Rico Tice)
- Marcus Honeysett on handling criticism in ministry
- For those who liked the sorts of thing Maggi Dawn’s book offers (reviewed last week), Artway is a wonderful site (in Dutch & English). It offers meditations on different artworks, and you can sign up to get them regularly emailed. (HT Paul Windsor).
- Wow – radical. Why not actually buy a newspaper to get your news…?
- Scary graphic stats for musicians trying to make their way in the world: what it takes to earn the minimum wage
- Another scary graphic illustrating how US laws are made (just like sausages) HT Graphic Sociology
- Some interesting pie charts illustrating the similarities between Coalition & Shadow Cabinets.
- Incredible: live map of where every London underground train is. A techie’s or a terrorist’s dream?
- I like this (HT: 22 words):
- Wiltshire vicar revives law to call villagers to archery practice…!
- Very awkward: what happens when you forget to wear a belt to work
- A classic from one of my favourite blogs, Futility Closet: great errata from the New York Times.
- I’m with stupid…
- I think these Fedex ads are great:
This is a review I’ve just written for Themelios, out next month. Tim Chester is an old friend who writes with great clarity and compassion. His is not an easy book – it is not an easy subject. For many in our culture, the very notion of why one might actually want to live porn-free seems utterly ridiculous. It’s as harmless an activity as riding a bike or reading the newspaper. But for others, it impairs relationships and even destroys marriages. This is not a neutral business.
We desperately need there to be some countervailing voices out there who are not shrill, self-righteous or smug. Tim’s voice is none of these things, for which I’m hugely grateful.
It is a brave man who talks openly about sexual sin. It is an even braver one who writes a book about it! But Tim Chester now has an established track record of writing well-crafted, profoundly theological but deeply pastoral books. This book, specifically tackling the blight of pornography head on, follows naturally from his 2008 publication, You Can Change. That Captured by a better vision is needed and timely should not be in doubt. The statistics for pornography usage and the sex industry’s profit margins are truly terrifying. Porn’s repercussions (for users, for those involved in the sex industry and for society as a whole) hardly bear thinking about. Its pervasive presence amongst Christians is the western church’s vast, unspoken secret – in one survey quoted by Chester, it is suggested that out of every 100 adults, twenty-five men and ten women are struggling with regular porn use (p. 11). Yet, despite its prevalence, it is a problem of such shame that it is confined to the shadows and never properly addressed.
So how to tackle it? That is the painful question for pastors who minister to such people, not to mention those who themselves struggle. The age-old resort of the well-directed rebuke, or naming and shaming, has never worked. Many caught up in pornography are wracked by crippling shame as it is, but that is barely enough to halt their indulgence. Furthermore, such an approach falls headlong into the trap of legalism, which can never bring transformation (only pride and defeat or both) and which is fundamentally incompatible with the authentically Christian gospel of grace.
This is something that Chester understands deeply – which is precisely why he is able to navigate so successfully through this pastoral minefield. His tactic seems to be as much about displacement as it is pastoral diagnosis. As his quotation from an anonymous article makes clear, porn addicts ‘need something more than mere information: they need to be wooed by the true and pure lover that their heart secretly seeks.’ (p. 76)
Chester is determined to offer precisely that. This does not, of course, mean he is afraid to provide important information or to speak very frankly (as he warns in the introduction) – a topic like this demands straight talking. He thus rightly begins, in the first of his five sections, by piercing porn’s façade of consensual pleasure and ‘harmless fun’. He ruthlessly exposes what the sex industry actually does to people at every level – his list of twelve reasons to give up porn is brutal in its trenchant but indisputable analysis. It thus easily achieves his aim to make pornography abhorrent.
Fortunately, however, this is not the book’s exclusive agenda – as the title suggests, Chester has a far more encouraging and inspiring concern. He wants to move us from abhorrence to adoration of God, with its resulting confidence of forgiveness and determination to battle sin. He has sought to understand, at a deep level, what insecurities and idols cause people to get hooked in the first place – and then proceeds to expose why the gospel is both infinitely better and far more compelling. Especially powerful was his articulation of the new confidence brought about by a believer’s justification in Christ. He nicely applies the apparent paradoxes of this divinely-granted status: we are freed by Christ to be free, we are cleansed by Christ to be clean, we are made holy so that we can be holy (pp. 90-94). As he says, ‘battling porn in our lives is not an exercise in denying pleasure. It’s about fighting pleasure with greater pleasure.’ (p. 76) ‘So with every false promise of porn there is a true promise of God. Whatever porn offers, God offers more.’ (p. 51)
Along the way, some inevitable pastoral conundrums need handling with care. What of the struggles of those who are not married? Chester tackles this, though probably not as fully as some might hope for (that is the remit of other books). Still, he makes clear how great the gospel compensations are for all, married or not. Or what of those who are in Christian leadership and struggle in this area? He was especially sensitive here. He does not pull his punches and explains how detrimental porn can be for ministry. Yet he reminds us that ‘using porn doesn’t disqualify you from serving God. For one thing, you were never qualified in the first place!’ (p. 87) This is something everyone in ministry needs to hear, porn or no porn. His advice is to keep battling but earnestly look to Christ for our righteousness.
Chester’s writing is always lucid and biblical but, in this book, his compassion is even more evident (as it needs to be). He makes frequent use of personal testimonies and experiences, from other books or from the anonymous research he carried out. These ground the book in reality.
Above all, though, the book is encouraging! I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised by that; but I was. The presenting issue of the book is a crucial and painful one, and his critique and analysis are relentless. Nevertheless, I found myself swept up by a refreshed enthusiasm and excitement for the gospel as he spoke with relish and delight about the grace of God, the glories of Christ and the wonders of sex in its right context. To my mind that clearly demonstrated he had fulfilled his aim of capturing us with a better vision. I certainly was.
It just so happened that Anne Jackson, who’s blog I regularly read, has made a video for XXXChurch talking about her addiction – very honest, down-to-earth and helpful.