While I was in the States at the end of last month, I had an afternoon to kill in Philadelphia. So the completely obvious thing to do was record another Q conversation. This time I sat down to chat with Ruth Naomi Floyd, whom I’d met at the European Leadership Conference in Hungary a few years ago. It’s available on iTunes podcasts, or if you prefer a direct feed, here on Jellycast.
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
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
Good Friday is a day for reflection.
What happened was wholly the result to Jesus’ remarkable but determined obedience. It was no tragic accident; it was no victory for wicked men, nor satanic powers; it was no disaster. It was the plan. That it was an act of obedience is clear from the night before in Gethsemane’s Garden, as Jesus couldn’t sleep for terror but still he prayed.
One or two have asked for this, so here it is: the first of 3 talks given in the gaudy riot of Pugin-inspired colour that is Parliament’s Undercroft Chapel. This is a group that meets mostly weekly under Christians in Parliament. The next two are on 15th and 29th November. We’d decided to do 3 sessions from the opening chapters of Paul’s extraordinary and thoroughly contemporary first letter to the Corinthian church. Read more
This is not hero-worship. Not only did Uncle John loathe the very idea of it, it is never constructive or edifying to indulge in it. Worshipped heroes always disappoint, like any idol. But it is not wrong to have our heroes: people we look up to, respect, seek to emulate. They are in perilously short supply in our world. It is about appreciating them, in spite of (and sometimes, because of) their foibles, eccentricities and flaws. There is something profoundly Christian about taking our heroes seriously.
It’s a word that gets used very lightly these days. It might be said that Djokovic triumphed over Nadal on Sunday at Wimbledon. Or that Obama triumphed in the last US Presidential election. Or that our school cricket team triumphed in the local derby. But overuse has obliterated the historical significance of the word. For in the Roman world (especially in the ‘good old days’ of the Roman republic), they were only awarded to a special few as the result of a full vote by the Senate, and only for those who had achieved an extraordinary military victory. 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
We all went for a trek in the fells above Whicham today and while we were up there, a local farmer had placed these 3 crosses on the ridge – when we got down to the bottom, we noticed that there was a sign on the Church gate announcing today’s installation of the Whicham Crosses ready for the weekend. Read more
Having finished Metaxas major biography of Bonhoeffer the other day, lots of things have jostled around my mind. I confess I skimmed bits of it (it is nearly 600pp including notes); I found the style a bit jarring at times (especially when he allows his inner satirist to get the better of him when describing Hitler’s Nazis; or when there is a sudden interruption of an incongruous colloquialism, such as the moment when Bonhoeffer ‘delivered an unrelenting homiletic bummer’ – p209!!); and I wasn’t too comfortable with some of the assumptions, or even appropriations, of his churchmanship (there has been quite a blogosphere debate about quite how evangelical it is possible to claim Bonhoeffer was).
But I learned a great deal – especially when Bonhoeffer is allowed to speak for himself, through his writings, letters and papers. This is a substantial book about an exceptional and challenging life. It is definitely worth investing time in.
However, one section blew me away – in the course of his discussion of the Nazi’s infamous book-burning orgy of May 1933, Metaxas quotes the poet Heinrich Heine at a couple of points…
Thus Germany would be ‘purged’ of the pernicious ‘un-German’ thoughts of authors such as Helen Keller, Jack London, and HGWells. Of course Erich Maria Remarque’s books were included, as were those of many others, including Albert Einstein and Thomas Mann. In 1821, in his play Almansor, the German poet Heinrich Heine wrote the chilling words: “Dort, wo man Bucher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen.”
Heine was a German Jew who converted to Christianity, and his words were a grim prophecy, meaning “Where books are burned, they will, in the end, burn people, too”. That night across Germany his books were among those thrown into the crackling flames. Sigmund Freud, whose books were also burned that night, made a similar remark. ‘Only our books? In earlier times they would have burned us with them.’ (p162)
But then Metaxas ends this chapter with these words:
Heinrich Heine’s famous words about the book burnings are often quoted and today are inscribed at the Opernplatz as a memorial of the ghastly ritual. But another passage from Heine’s works is perhaps more eerily prophetic of what would take place in Germany a century hence. They are the concluding words of his 1834 book, Religion and Philosophy in Germany:
Christianity – and this is its greatest merit – has somewhat mitigated the brutal German love of war, but it could not destroy it. Should that subduing talisman, the cross, be shattered, the frenzied madness of the ancient warriors, that insane Berserk rage of which Nordic bards have spoken and sung so often, will once more burst into flame. This talisman is fragile, and the day will come when it will collapse miserably. Then the ancient stony gods will rise from the forgotten debris and rub the dust of a thousand years from their eyes, and finally Thor with his giant hammer will jump up and smash the Gothic cathedrals… Thought precedes action as lightning precedes thunder… [W]hen you hear a crashing such as never before has been heard in the world’s history, then you know that the german thunderbolt has fallen at last. At that uproar, the eagles of the air will drop dead, and lions in the remotest deserts of Africa will hide in their royal dens. A play will be performed in Germany which will make the French Revolution look like an innocent idyll. (p163)
Breathtaking, but terrifying, prescience.
Apologies for the rather contrived alliteration but couldn’t resist. Have been in Sofia, Bulgaria since Monday and on my way now to Athens for another couple of days’ meetings. Pretty intense but lots of big encouragements. Here in Bulgaria and Greece to plan for the launch of Langham events in both countries this Autumn.
But I was very struck by this sight in a Sofia church’s meeting place, where we’ve been having our meetings and discussions. It’s amidst the brutalists, not because of the character of the neighbours or local inhabitants – far from it! – I’m using the term (albeit rather loosely) in the architectural sense. For this church has created a meeting space on the second floor of a pretty modern apartment block in a classic, anonymous suburb of Sofia. Like so many European cities, it is all grey concrete, girders and pure functionality with little or no attention to aesthetic values. Huge impersonal squares are surrounded by long residential blocks and the odd supermarket or small health-club. But on entering Holy Trinity church, you are confronted by this unexpected blaze of theological colour.
Of course, the predominant Christian tradition in Bulgaria is Orthodox – and this has clear echoes of Orthodox iconography – quite a surprise in a Protestant Evangelical church. But what I found particularly powerful was the sweeping shape of the wooden cross, which is clearly the focal point of the installation – both because it is a the only physical structure in the set up, but also because the wall-painting and the frosted glass window are designed to highlight it (note the crown of thorns traced on both).
Because of the lines and shape of the wood, this is a cross that opens its arms wide in a welcoming embrace and also, somehow, lifts one up in its embrace – which is a profoundly true theological statement. Wonderful. (Click on the photo for one or two other shots).
Of course, the real joy of being here was to get to know some brothers who will form the team for Langham Bulgaria. We had very encouraging discussions and have great hopes for how things could develop here.