Monday, May 28, 2007

The Psalters

Stumbled upon this 'nomad community' that makes wonderful, creative music. They remind me of the Jesus Freaks of the 60s and 70s. Great stuff. The link below is to a video of a great rendition of the Lord's Prayer. Have a look at their website, too.

Now why don't we hear this kind of thing more often in our "mission-shaped" Church of England, looking for "pioneer ministry" and "fresh expressions"... ok, I am running out of current buzzwords now.

Oops, of course, these guys do not fall into any camp; they can't be controlled. Can't have that, of course. Might be dangerous. Let's have some Graham Kendrick, Shine Jesus Shine, instead!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Crux of Preaching

Georg Fritze:

"The point of preaching is not that the pastor manages to find brilliant words and beautiful examples, dug up from his educational treasure-chest. He also must not allow himself to be affected by the number of people that come to him — what matters is that he preaches the word about God. He should be like the pointing finger of John (in the painting of the crucifixion by Grünewald), which points at Jesus: there is light, there is life! Behold, that is the Lamb of God, which bears the sin of the world! Where God is thus proclaimed and where hearts take up the word, something happens: there is peace, joy, freedom, obedience in respect of the will of God..."

„In der Predigt kommt es nicht darauf an, dass der Pfarrer geistreiche Worte aus seinem Bildungsschatz und schöne Vergleiche findet; er darf sich auch nicht dadurch bestimmen lassen, ob viele oder weniger Menschen zu ihm kommen — entscheident ist, dass er das Wort von Gott sagt. Er soll sein wie der sichtbar ausgestrecket Zeigefinger des Johannes (auf dem Grünewaldschen Bild von der Kreuzigung), der auf Jesus weist: dort ist Licht, dort ist Leben! Siehe, das ist Gottes Lamm, das der Welt Sünde trägt! Wo Gott so verkündigt wird und wo die Herzen so das Wort aufnehmen, da geschieht etwas, da wird Friede, Freude, Freiheit, Gehorsam gegen den Willen Gottes..." [Georg Fritze, cited in Hans Prolingheuer, Der rote Pfarrer: Leben und Kampf des Georg Fritze (1874-1939). 2. Aufl. Köln: Pahl-Rugenstein, 1989, p.86]

Georg Fritze (1874-1939), pastor, socialist, anti-fascist: hounded out of his parish post by Nazi 'Christians', and ignored by those in the church who preferred to sit on the fence (usually that's most of us). The reference to Matthias Grünewald is to the famous triptych known as the Isenheimer Altarpiece;

Friday, May 25, 2007

Towel Day

AKMA points out that today is 'Towel Day', in honour of Douglas Adams, who sadly passed away, far too early, six years ago now.

. See also this photo of DNA himself:

So if you go out today, carry a copy of the Hitchhiker's Guide, and a towel. He brought fun, joy, and some realism to the world. I for one will toast him tonight with a pan-galactic gargle-blaster.

Whitsunday/Pentecost (Acta 2:1-11; Ps 104)

Once again, in reflecting upon the texts traditionally assigned to the Feast of Pentecost, I am struck by both the power of the texts, and the down-to-earth realism of the New Testament. Yes, the story of Pentecost is about realism.

I may be a cynical/realist socialist, because of life experience and Jesus, yet it is precisely because I am that that Acts 2 / Pentecost strikes me as realistic. What happens at Pentecost is gritty, messy, real life.

Wisdom flows through the Holy Spirit upon God's people. (In the English tradition, the Sunday of Pentecost is also traditionally called Whitsunday, which is derived from Wit/Wisdom Sunday, if E. Cobham Brewer got it right.) That wisdom, here expressed in a radical form of speaking in the tongues of the earth, not quite reversing, but addressing the division of humanity after Babel (Gen 11:1-9), will attract the derision of those who happen to stand outside: "they are filled with sweet new wine". Peter invites them to be a little more gracious: come on, guys, it's only three hours into the day (9 am)! Give us some credit, ok?!

The at times excessive emphasis that has been placed on glossolalia ("speaking in tongues") at different times in the history of the church, particularly in late modernity (in both pentecostalism and the charismatic movement), tends to miss the point that Luke makes here, as expressed in the speech of Peter. What is happening here, Peter says, is simply what the Joel, that prophet of old, has been talking about (I won't go into what one can make of the not-quite-so-literal rendering of the text of Joel 3:1-5; that's for some other time): 17‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ (NRSV)

Once again, the radically inclusive nature of this eschatological vision comes to the fore: men and women, young and old shall see the wisdom of God, thus going beyond the contemporary social and cultural conventions. In that same wisdom of the Holy Spirit, the nascent church tries to work out a communal life that sustains all (Acts 2-5), with all its radical demands and challenges.

In this same spirit, we can pray, quite fittingly, with Psalm 104, which is allocated to this Sunday: it praises the wonders of God, the creator and sustainer of the earth. And once again, the subtext is that if glory is given to God, it is, when push comes to shove, not given to those who claim to sit in lordship over us (see St Paul).

31May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works— 32who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke. 33I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being. 34May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord. 35Let sinners be consumed from the earth, and let the wicked be no more. Bless the Lord, O my soul. Praise the Lord!

The last verse brings up another issue, namely that of vengeance in the Psalms (traditionally referred to as the problem of imprecatory psalms). That's another huge story, but perhaps it is enough to remember here, quite in line with my Reformation heritage, that we are all of us sinners. Reflecting on that in light of Pentecost, the outpouring of the Spirit, of Wisdom, it should become clear that Ps 104:35 is, if you will, neither masochistic nor sadistic.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Blair mooted as possible future World Bank chief

According to ekklesia news, anyway.

Probably just idle speculation... still: Lord, have mercy.

Incidentally, Chumbawamba have a good song on Mr Blair: "Tony" (, at their downloads page: Sums up quite a bit of the emotional side of things some of us feel when he is being referred to as a 'Christian Socialist'.

Conversion of the Powers

"These principles that govern personal moral conduct, that make harmony possible in small social units like the family, also apply in the wider areas of the state and in the whole community of nations. It is however quite absurd, in our present situation or in any other, to expect these principles to be universally accepted as the result of moral exhortations. There is very little hope that the world will be run according to them all of a sudden, as a result of some hypothetical change of heart on the part of politicians. It is useless and even laughable to base political thought on the faint hope of a purely contingent and subjective moral illumination in the hearts of the world's leaders. But outside of political thought and action, in the religious sphere, it is not only permissible to hope for such a mysterious consummation, but it is necessary to pray for it. We can and must believe not so much that the mysterious light of God can "convert" the ones who are mostly responsible for the world's peace, but at least that they may, in spite of their obstinacy and their prejudices, be guarded against fatal error." (Thomas Merton, "The Root of War is Fear", 1961, in: New Seeds of Contemplation, London: Burns and Oates, 1962, p.90)