I came across this remarkable, inspiring story at the end of David Smith’s excellent The Kindness of God, a plea for a new missiology appropriate to these troubled times. It comes a professor friend of his who has ministered for many years in Jos, Plateau State in northern Nigeria. Jos sits on Africa’s great faultline between the Muslim north and Christian south – and thus has faced terrible things in recent years. Read more
Just back from doing the All Souls week away in Bath – my first major thing for work since I was off from 1st Jan. All seemed to go smoothly and happily, which was rather a relief for all concerned. The focus this year was the grace-freedom we have in Christ – which Paul expounds so superbly through Galatians Read more
C. S. Lewis was a great burster of pride’s balloons. His Screwtape Letters are a masterful model in how to do that. But he was only able to take aim with such accuracy that because he had come face to face with his own pride. And these two poems illustrate that perfectly. They take seriously the distorting effects of our own self-centredness, which warp our perception of reality and God, even when we pray. 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
Thanks to the 10ofThose gang, my little collection of Easter narratives is now out and available for purchase. Called (rather originally, don’t you think) The Resurrection, accompanied by the all-important, explanatory subtitle First Encounters with the Risen Christ, it’s meant to be a bit of a companion to Sach and Jeffery’s The Cross.
However, it’s not quite in the same style as mine is more an expository than systematic journey. My aim was to cover each of the 3 key Easter narratives in turn (from Matthew, Luke and John, in their biblical and length order). 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.
Having spent the last four posts talking about childhood reading in general, it seems appropriate to move onto this. Those familiar with the Jesus Storybook Bible will know (and no doubt love) the style. That is easily the best of its kind for young children. Sally Lloyd-Jones and artist Jago have followed up with Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing. It’s ostensibly for children – though it mustn’t be reserved only for children. I found it thrilling – having expected just to dip and out, I found myself reading cover to cover.
Well, this is a first: a Quaerentia competition with REAL prizes (rather than the virtual Crunchie bars which I’ve so generously offered in the past! But the lovely people at IVP have given me a few free downloads of the recently published e-book of Cross-Examined. VERY exciting. Just what you always wanted for Christmas I’m sure. I completely realise that it’s themes are more to do with Good Friday and Easter Day, but it seemed reasonable enough to give them away for Christmas. Read more
I read Jenell Williams Paris’ remarkable book, The End of Sexual Identity (published by IVP US), over the summer, and have been cogitating on it ever since. It is a brave book, not least because it wouldn’t surprise me if it invites potshots (and worse) from all sides. It doesn’t take a degree in political science to gather that the cultural climate in the west has shifted significantly in recent years. Read more
The chaps at 10 of Those have taken the initiative to produce a number of shorter and cheaper, but decent quality, booklets, and the first of these are now out. There’s a brief introduction to the doctrine of The Cross by Andrew Sach and Steve Jeffery (well-qualified to write on this having worked on the mammoth but important He was pierced for our transgressions). But the other is a lovely new outing from Tim Keller (who’s come up here on Q a number of times): The Freedom of Self-forgetfulness – The Path To True Christian Joy. Read more
Maurice Castle is the wary protagonist of Graham Greene’s 1978 novel, The Human Factor. He works on the Africa desk for the British secret service. He loves his South African wife and her young son but has a deeply burdened and heavy heart. He is a very sympathetic character – a man who, as his mother cuttingly observed, an over-inflated sense of gratitude. And it is his sense of gratitude and indebtedness that gets him into trouble. But I won’t plot spoil. Read more
It’s a given. Christians disagree. Like pretty much everyone else, in fact. They always have. They always will. This side of the eschaton, that is.
So the issue is not whether or not we can avoid disagreement. The issue is whether or not we can disagree badly… or disagree well… This is what lay behind the recent 3-part sermon series given by Hugh Palmer at All Souls. And it deserves a wide airing in its entirety because it confronts some vital and little-appreciated issues.
OK, I realise that’s somewhat anachronistic, not to say speculative. But I’m in a staff small group that’s started reading an extraordinary book: Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. It is dense, blunt but most of all, persuasive. And even though we’ve only been going at it for a week, it has already stimulated all kinds of interesting discussions. But one of the most challenging ideas from chapter one is his analysis of what he calls ‘visionary dreaming’. Read more
Yesterday was one that will be hard to forget: the funeral of an extraordinary man of God. It was an occasion full of gratitude and even joy, but also overwhelming at moments to say goodbye to Uncle John (or as we were reminded in the service, it is only Au Revoir). There was great pathos to think that, as his coffin was carried out, he was leaving All Souls for the last time. Read more
One of life’s great joys is Radio 3′s CD Review every Saturday morning. And every now and then, it is a wonderful source for discovering previously unheard gems. Just a couple of weeks ago, there was a segment about Baltic Choral music. And I was gripped by the music of Latvian Eriks Esenvalds. I’d never heard of him until that moment. But I’m now a total convert. Read more
Well, we made it to the end of Galatians on Sunday night. And quite a journey it’s been. Phew!
Mark Prentice did a huge job of gathering the threads from the whole of Gal 5 the previous week, and it was left to me to do the same for Gal 6. As with so many of Paul’s letters, the last chapter can seem rather an afterthought and hotchpotch. Well, I certainly don’t think Gal 6 is either. This is his parting shot, including the words in his own hand instead of the usual dictation. FWIW, here is the talk, and the accompanying outline:
Incidentally, I’ve pulled together my various biblical tables into one place, in case it is of interest.
To some (especially Canadians), this is sacrilege. And I’ve definitely got issues about tampering with genius (as I hope you have). Christians especially waste far too much time aping the world’s creativity and consequently only produce derivative pap. I particularly struggle with the tendency to add holy words to populist melodies (eg the Eastenders or Match of the Day signature tunes). Grghghh.
However, every now and then something surprises. Leonard Cohen’s titanic Hallelujah should by rights be left totally alone (especially by Simon Cowell). And it does deal with some pretty interesting themes – David & Bathsheba, Samson & Delilah. They’re even biblical, after all.
But one of this year’s apprentices working with the youth at All Souls, Rhys Owens, came up with his own rewrite to tell the gospel story, a kind of contemporary Philippians 2. We had a fantastic time on Sunday at our All-Age Christmas service, which had the theme of Christmas Around the World. Accompanied by an all-age band, we sang or heard songs in Malay, German & Slovak, Luganda and Zulu as well as English, had readings in English and Mandarin, and Christmas greetings in the above languages plus Spanish, Russian and Welsh. But a highlight was Rhys singing his Hallelujah (photo above). It was a brilliant job – impressive for 9.30 in the morning.
Particularly powerful was the way Rhys clearly sensed the song’s musical progression, managing to match his words and themes to the effortless crescendos and dynamics of the music (the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall, and the major lift). Sing it and you’ll get the idea…
It won’t be to everyone’s taste, of course. But that’s irrelevant. I give it 10/10 for effort and effectiveness.
Have managed to get round to reading Carson’s 2010 book Scandalous – to great profit and provocation. Will get round to fuller comments in due course. But for now, I was very struck by this section, in which he ponders the significance of some historical revisionism in James Cameron’s film Titanic. In expounding the divine love that is the foundation of the gospel, he says this:
It was not nails that held Jesus to that wretched cross; it was his unqualified resolution, out of love for his Father, to do his Father’s will – and within that framework, it was his love for sinners like me. He really could not save himself.
Perhaps part of our slowness to come to grips with this truth lies in the way the notion of moral imperative has dissipated in much recent Western thought. Did you see the film Titanic that was screened about a dozen years ago? The great ship is full of the richest people in the world, and, according to the film, as the ship sinks, the rich men start to scramble for the few and inadequate lifeboats. British sailors draw handguns and fire into the air, crying “stand back! Stand back! Women and children first!” In reality, of course, nothing like that happened.
The universal testimony of the witnesses who survived the disaster is that the men hung back and urged the women and children into the lifeboats. John Jacob Astor, was there, at the time the richest man on earth, the Bill Gates of 1912. He dragged his wife to a boat, shoved her on, and stepped back. Someone urged him to get in, too. He refused: the boats are to few, and must be for the women and children first. He stepped back, and drowned. The philanthropist Benjamin Guggenheim was present. He was traveling with his mistress, but when he perceived that it was unlikely he would survive, he told one of his servants, ‘Tell my wife tha Benjamin Guggenheim knows his duty” – and he hung back, and drowned. There is not a single report of some rich man displacing women and children in the mad rush for survival.
When the film was reviewed in the New York Times, the reviewer asked why the producer and director of the film had distorted history so flagrantly in this regard. The scene as they depicted it was implausible from the beginning. British sailors drawing handguns? Most British police officers do not carry handguns; British sailors certainly do not. So why this wilful distortion of history? And then the reviewer answered his own question: if the producer and director had told the truth, he said, no one would have believed them.
I have seldom read a more damning indictment of the development of Western culture, especially Anglo-Saxon culture, in the last century. One hundred years ago, there remained in our culture enough residue of the Christian virtue of self-sacrifice for the sake of others, of the moral imperative that seeks the other’s good at personal expense, that Christians and non-Christians alike thought it noble, if unremarkable, to choose death for the sake of others. A mere century later, such a course is judged so unbelievable that the history is distorted. (pp30-31)
Having blogged a few weeks back about the tragedy of Tani Prroj, it seems that all kinds of things have been happening. It has made waves. Out of that terrible evil have come glimmers of good and redemption.
- A big rally against Blood-feuds took place the other day in Tirana, organised by VUSH (the Albanian Evangelical Alliance). The photos and short clip gives an idea of the crowd (filmed during the singing of the national Anthem)
- Various speakers addressed the crowds – but Elona, Tani’s remarkable widow, spoke powerfully and movingly, about the situation despite her profound grief. She made clear that she forgave the perpetrators and that wanted the cycle to stop. The rally was a powerful call for the tradition to end, and justice to be done, right in the heart of the capital.
- On a much smaller note, it has been really encouraging to me (and will certainly be to Elona and the children) to see that readers and friends of this blog have raised well over £3000 for the family – a wonderful testimony to global Christian ties that cross boundaries and even non-acquaintance.
Of course, after the intensity of these weeks, now the real agony begins as the reality bears down on the family. PLEASE PRAY hard for Elona, and the two children (both under 10) who are struggling to come to terms of life without their father.
And while we’re on the subject, a major article (and quoted below in translation) was written in one of the main Albanian newspapers by Besnik Mustafaj (right). He is a former Albanian Ambassador to France and Foreign Minister.
On October 8 this month, the center of Shkodra, in the pedestrian path that Shkodra proudly call “Piaca” in the middle of the day, exactly at 13:30, was killed a man about 30 years old, a father, an Albanian-servant of God, whose name was Dritan Prroj. I have not had the chance to know him. And from his short life mostly just know the circumstances under which he was massacred and those learned from the press. Even know who was a member of the “Evangelical Alliance in Albania…
He was an Albanian pastor at the church “Word of Christ” in his hometown, a choice that he certainly has made himself and sufficient showing his good nature, said more clearly, for his love for people. He was completely innocent. But his life was not snapped in between the age of the most beautiful by accident. It makes our pain and his loss to us even more severe. Killer is a guy 21 years old. I do not deserve mentioning his name in homage to Dritan Prroj. But one thing must be said: he has committed a barbaric act. Killer is in jail now and will probably rot all his youth there and possibly the age of the husband. Woe to the soul the suffering that awaits him!
Dritan Prroj certainly knew that the disaster had caused five years ago his uncle in the family of killers. His family came from Dukagjin and he must have known that Canon. But Dritan Prroj has judged as belonging to adjudicate a citizen of 2000, an Albanian to be honest, a man of God: he is not stuck. Hiding in the house would make Dritan Prroj part of a fault where there was no finger. He has continued to make his own life to help his family, his fellow believers church where served. Dritan Prroj not knowingly be admitted so in tune with his assassin, has refused to do his evil game. Contrary. Blessed his soul to the memory that has left!
Dritan Prroj, refused to hide in the house and this is a adorable and bravery. He paid a very expensive price, it is true. But this is not a reason to think today penance he should be preserved. Why should be preserved when he was not guilty? And by whom should be preserved in the end, when he did not make anyone worse? I guess he guarded by himself, yes, probably preserved by himself not to lose the way of justice. One thing is clear as the light of the sun: from the barbarity of this kind does not save by hiding. Until the last moment of life when even stopped to tell his name to the killer, Dritan Prroj has proved that there was a quiet man with a clear conscience. Such people, who have the audacity to disagree with evil, our civilization needs as much as air. In this sense and this is a superb sense, Dritan Prroj is a hero for our time. We, all of his compatriots, we must turn our eyes for a moment with deep humility towards the hero. Who said that the time of heroes has gone?
Evangelical Alliance in Albania gave to Dritan’ funeral the event that it deserved. And it would like, I am sure now, even the deceased. They walked in silence, dignified city center, upholding placards with calls. I turn to the conscience of our society as much as state law, including leaders of religious communities to join all the weight of each word of his work on behalf of the need to end feud , this “national disaster”, as called Fitor Muça, president of the Evangelical Alliance.
Among those who joined the calls were relatives of Dritan Prroj. And this is a fact particularly important. The significance of his example would be incomplete without their presence at the event where combined into one policy as the work of citizens, morality as obedience of believers and culture like behavior of people who love life, to serve a purpose common: order and social peace. I believe that the presence of relatives of the deceased at that escorts have understood the relatives of the killer, as I found out in Tirana, as an advertisement that between their family and Prroj there will be no revenge. This ominous chain is broken here. Glory to those who breaks the chains like that!
Believing with all my heart and mind in these words that I say, I feel obliged to explain better my opinion. May God forbid anyone to make the mistake and ask to the Prroj family to forgive the killer. Prroj family has no right either to forgive or to punish. It has power only to believe the killer in the hands of justice, in the hands of the law, who strongly wish to show in this case too harsh. With my heart in hand I feel no compassion for the lost youth of the killers, as I do not feel compassion for the endless torture of his parents’ mind today and in the future. I am convinced that 21-year-old boy would not do this if he would not been pushed and encouraged from his close circle of his family. Now it is late to ask them if they really wanted their son to do all this tragedy and to take an innocent life. A few years ago they remained without a son, and that time they were to be comforted, now they are left without two sons. Lord grant them the knowledge to understand how great fault they made to themselves and to the Prroj family!
Besnik Mustafaraj, President of the Albanian Forum for the Alliance of Civilizations