Forgotten Fridays

Forget Blame it on the Boogie, ABC and I’ll be there. Good songs, but this is the Jackson Five’s best moment by far. Soooo underrated.


And love the strange humanist video with the Jacksons remaking the universe. Heretical, but endlessly reminiscent of the sci fi programmes of my youth.

Forgotten Fridays

This is a lovely song from a great film. Probably really meant for children, but endlessly entertaining, and it provides excellent illustration material for talks on the book of Ruth.  (The actual youtube clip is tacky, but hey, what you gonna do?)

The Race to the Margins

So, all this talk about checking your privilege, and making sure we hear the voices of people on the margins has created a new phenomena – a race to the margins.

That is, everyone wants to prove they are marginalised, because if you are privileged you shouldn’t be heard. We need to make room for the voices of the marginalised. Me, me, pick me, I’m marginalised, so listen to me.

Of course, what happens, is that all sorts of people who aren’t marginalised are trying to make out they are in order to prove that they are worth listening to.

Just this week I was reading a post by Rachel Held Evans (her of middle class white America book deal and internet commentator fame) making out that she was “on the margins” of evangelicalism, and thus we would do well to listen to her. I am constantly reading posts by rich westerners with families and jobs and (clearly) internet access about how the church marginalised them by not making them welcome or letting them preach or yaddah yaddah yaddah. People, there really are marginalised people in the world, and they are not you!

First, you are making a nonsense of the term. To say “I am on the margins of evangelicalism” is like me saying “I am on the margins of the refugee community.” In a way true, I know that community in my city and am not involved in it, and therefore don’t have much of a voice there, they are (rightly probably) not that interested in my views on their life issues. But they are the marginalised group. It is gobbledygook to claim that they are marginalising me. Evangelicalism is a tiny minority of people in the world whose views are generally rejected by mainstream thought. To choose, as Held Evans has done, to make your views more mainstream on the key issues of the day and then claim evangelicals are marginalising you is nonsense, and a rather crass attempt to gain attention for yourself, frankly. It is, incidentally, the erroneous tactic that Christians often use to combat gay rights: claiming that progress in that area is marginalising them, without acknowledging that the other group is the one with the history of actual exclusion. Claiming they are marginalising you as a tactic is an insult to all those in that group who have actually really suffered because of the legal imposition of Christian morality and the subsequent cultural fallout. As evangelical views become less mainstream and you gain a hearing in the secular media by not subscribing to them, to claim evangelicals are marginalising you is just a wrong use of the word. 

Second, you are claiming marginalisation when it’s not true. Feeling left out at church does not make you unprivileged. Not being allowed to preach is not marginalising your voice, if at the same time you have access to the internet and a telephone and a democratic political process and the choice to change your church and religion. By definition if you are able to have this discussion using the internet you are not one of the world’s marginalised people. There are millions (billions?) with no access to information, the internet, education, healthcare, or choices who actually are voiceless. By all means fight for them to be heard. Don’t claim to be so when you are not.

And that’s the damaging thing about this discourse. We have middle class rich western feminist Christians high fiving each other that they are making progress in their “battle” to “have their story heard” and clogging up the church’s attention to their deep seated hurt at not being allowed to wear the same funny dress as the men, when Christians who have nothing, really nothing, the ones in whom Jesus says we will find him remain with hardly any voice at all.

Can I suggest two ways through this mess, that, I hope, are more productive than me just telling those people to check their privilege?

1) There is a whole philosophical background here where language is viewed as a means by which to exercise power over each other. Thus every exercise of language is examined to see what powerful force behind is being used to gain mastery over me. If I look behind the words and find that the person actually is powerful, well, my hermeneutic of suspicion kicks in and I dismiss their opinion as merely an attempt to dominate. Perhaps, we would be better starting with God, that self giving relationship of love who communicates with us through a word, and investigate and take seriously the possibility of the constructive and relationship building effects of language even from those towards whom we feel suspicion. No need to check who is speaking before I acknowledge what they have said, but take seriously the relational opportunity of their words.

2) Do we need some doctrine of the Holy Spirit here? All Christians can prophesy and encourage other Christians and should seek to do that. That means I can take the words of a seminary educated white man and seek encouragement, bearing in mind all the wonderful educational resources to which he has had access. I can look for the poorest Christian I know and not seek to give them charity but listen to their experiences knowing I will learn something of Christ because the Holy Spirit works there. The Holy Spirit changes my hermeneutic of suspicion to one of expectation.

Love always hopes for the best. The Spirit brings that attitude to other Christians, no matter their background. He qualifies them to speak words of encouragement to me.They need not prove their unprivileged credentials in order to be listened to.

Forgotten Fridays

How Gavin Degraw is not more famous I will never know. It must be depressing to be a musician and your most famous moment to have been singing the theme tune to One Tree Hill, but that’s Gavin’s story. Maybe it’s because he’s called Gavin. He sings happy satisfying piano rock with an awesome voice, and this one should have been a huge hit. It wasn’t.

PS – the still youtube has chosen for this video is, er…., intriguing! No offence meant.

“You oppress the weak.”

The following is a made up story. Fiction. Not real. Any similarity etc etc etc. I am a minister and do not write posts like this to not-so-subtly “out” my own church. I would not consider that good pastoral practice. But it could be about my church some day. Or yours.

John started coming to church because he needed help. Through a series of unfortunate circumstances, bad decisions and unpleasant people he ended up with nowhere to live in a place he didn’t know anyone, in debt and unable to return to what he might once have called home. He met a nice Christian and  he tried church. Someone from church found him somewhere to live, he attended a course about debt, and someone helped him deal with the people chasing him for money. He wanted to be “involved” in church – people kept using that word, and he wanted it to describe himself. He could only imagine how it would be to move from insider to outsider, alone to together, lone ranger to team player. It was this joining of a community that eventually pushed him over the line from sceptic to believer; hearing Jesus promise that even he could be a priest in God’s new kingdom. “How can I get involved?” he asked eagerly.

And so, to get involved, he joined a team. He didn’t play an instrument, his past meant a CRB disclosure would disqualify him from children’s work, and he didn’t know anything about electrical stuff. But making coffee he could do. And so he pitched up each week to mix the cheap instant coffee with water, dispense it out in plastic cups that burned his hands, and pass around pink wafer biscuits.

As he did that he began to notice something. All the people helping on this particular team were people just like him. They were the people who didn’t have a family, who seemed a bit peripheral to church life, who really wanted to be “involved.” It wasn’t a very social team because, frankly, the people there were all a bit like him, not much practiced at being social. Most of the work was done in near silence.

He noticed something else. There were a whole lot of people in church not like him. They were young and successful medical students, pretty girls who had boyfriends who weren’t Christians, successful executives, people who “didn’t have time” to make coffee for others or, in fact, to speak to the people who did, so full were their lives of work and relationship and, well, success. Full up with all the things he didn’t have and thought he’d been told wouldn’t count in the church. They were endlessly happily chatting to each other. Many of them seemed to know each other, but he couldn’t work out how, as they seemed to just turn up at church in families or groups of people that they already knew, wave their arms a bit, sit through the (in his opinion, rather long, sermons) and go home.  It was as if, to him, church was the family he needed, but to everyone else it was an extra thing they did alongside some people they already cared about. And his very being in that first needy group made him the ideal person to make coffee as far as they were concerned, because he wasn’t part of any of the already-formed groups. He makes coffee, we chat, it all works rather well. So it seemed to him that it seemed to them.

In fact, the whole thing seemed to him to be much like his other job in life, working as a cleaner for a couple of rich families. He did the jobs they didn’t want to do in order for them to get on with their “busy” lives. But at least they paid. In church, there seemed to be whole group of people for whom turning up, using other people’s hard work for free and leaving again was the sum total. “Is this it?” he wondered.

In Jeremiah, one of the reasons God wants to get rid of the temple is because the people oppress the weak. Is it just possible that our church structures do the same? We, rightly, attract those who need a community, but many of us come with our community already fixed. The people who have time, who have a real desire to be involved, those who do not have a family or a demanding education, or a relatively high flying job, those people do the work for those who are too busy. And this, of course, mirrors the oppressive structures of the world, where the poor’s “weakness” is used as a way for the rich to get them to do all the jobs they would rather not do. We end up in a grotesque religious parody of the worst aspects of the world; much like Jeremiah’s temple. Do you realise that your decision “not to be that involved”, to stay with the people you already know, to put your own family first is never just that, it is a decision to pass the hard graft of church life to someone whose life is probably less full, less successful, less materially fulfilling than ours, to deny them the very thing that they really need from the church, the very thing that Jesus offers them.

It does all feel like far too much to fit in sometimes I know. But here’s the thing, middle class busy people oppressing and using the weak in church life is not an option. If we feel like some other choices we have made about our work, our relationships, our family stop us caring for the weak among us; the other choices need to change. Jeremiah’s temple isn’t there any more, because what use does God have for a community that bears his name but oppresses the weak that he loves, died for, became one of?


Forgotten Fridays

This guy had a minor career in the naughties and resurfaced on this year’s series of the voice. But how this was not a bigger hit is a mystery to me – it’s like a really really great Stevie Wonder song.

Gone Girl and the politics of kissing

There’s a politics to relationships. Politics is the give and take that operates in every sphere of life, the deals you have to do, the things you have to trade to get what you want, the process of you deciding what is really important and what you can let go. Life is politics if you think there are overarching end goals, whether you think they are given out by God, the state, your family or you get to set them yourself. You have to let some things go to try and get what you really want. As everyone is doing that it’s all just one big horse trade.

Gone Girl is all about the politics of a marriage. Let me be honest, it’s absolutely gripping. Last week I didn’t have lunch with the people in my office for two days because I sat at my desk reading Gone Girl. I could not put it down. ,

In saying that I came away feeling..well..soiled. Not because I was so engrossed I didn’t make it to the loo, but because Gillian Flynn takes the politics of marriage; how we trade and deal and manipulate to get the things that we want to absolute extremes. Amy is tired of being “cool girl” as a way of getting what she wants from her husband and finds a different way. Nick is tired of being “trapped” with someone he doesn’t love and looks elsewhere. And in an attempt to get himself out of a difficult situation, starts to play a different role, the role of doting husband in which he becomes trapped forever. It’s dark. It’s, in the end, pretty hopeless. Someone “wins”, but it’s a pretty empty victory, and there is huge collateral damage along the way. Someone gets what they want, but what have they become along the way? A monster.

You know there is a whole movement today to redefine marriage. It’s not the gay marriage issue really, that just a symptom of a bigger shift, that even most Christians I know have bought into: marriage is about making you happy. At its best it is about making the other person happy, but nevertheless, it’s an institution best used to express and increase the happiness of the participants. It should be available to anyone who feels that it will be useful for them in that quest.

And that’s the impossible dynamic that Gone Girl explores. Because to really get what you want, you will have to seriously limit and even hurt the other person. Both people aiming to get what makes them happy ends in destruction. Amy tries two tacks: pretending to be someone that Nick will love, and forcing him into expressing a love he does not feel. She gets what she wants, he is crushed and defeated. At the heart of a secular view of marriage that says you both aim for happiness is, I am afraid, someone doing a deal, settling for less than happiness in order to assuage the needs of other.

Of course, in certain view of the world, that is an intensely beautiful thing. There is something amazing, isn’t there where one person voluntarily gives up their happiness for the sake of love and service and care for the other. Despite all the talk about marriage being for happiness we know that the real marriages, the true lovers, chuck in their preferences in order to do what is really best for the other person. It’s those relationships that have real and lasting value. Like those photos everyone’s posting on Facebook at the moment of the guy documenting his wife’s battle with cancer, his willingness to feel the pain for her is what marriage is really all about.

And that’s because it’s not given to us as a route to personal happiness. It’s there, like so many things in creation as a faint but amazing echo of the most amazing union there is, where one partner loves the other unto pain and separation and death. No trades, just giving. And true human love is found as two are united in their love for a third, the one who loves them stronger than death. Without that, you risk ending up with just politics.

Forgotten Fridays

Fridays on my blog are going to be about posting songs that I love, but that seem to have been forgotten by everyone else. Hidden album tracks, number 17 hits, little known artists. You’ll find them all here. First, of course, some Kylie. This has got to be one of my favourite Kylie songs – loads better than “Can’t get you out of my head” and other so-called classics. Also, gotta love the 90s synth piano. Wrap your eardrums around this.

(Warning, this is very much from her “I’m a vixen in a bikini” stage)

Radical. Not.

So, I was reading this article someone posted on Facebook about Nadia Bolz-Weber, a “radical” priest in Denver Colorado. She’s like so kurr-razy, she has tattoos! She swears in sermons and people think it’s really cool! She supports gay marriage and she’s a feminist! She uses social media to promote herself! How amazingly radical! Not.

It really doesn’t sound that radical to me. I mean, let’s get this right. Swears in order to sound cool: been normal since I was in secondary school. Has tattoos – sitting in this coffee shop I can see 5 tattoos from my seat, and that’s only the ones not covered by clothes. Feminism; yup pretty much everyone I know thinks you’re under a moral responsibility to be one of those. Supporting gay marriage – well that’s basically the mainstream view of everyone in the west at least. And social media to promote your product (in this case, herself) – well hardly groundbreaking is it? I struggle to think of many church leaders who are more un-radical, and less a projection of the culture in which they live.

Let me tell you about some real radicals. They reject society’s emphasis on appearance and are therefore often don’t have tattoos or other very trendy accessories. Their priorities are different and their resources go elsewhere. They tend not to swear, not because the words are inherently bad, but because they don’t take Bolz-Weber’s zeitgeisty view that “I shouldn’t have to pretend I’m something I’m not.” Rather, putting others first, they try not to be needlessly offensive in order to be accepted. In fact, the whole acceptance thing is interesting, because it doesn’t seem to matter to them that much. They seem, sort of, safe in who they are.

They radically depart from the orthodoxy that two people who love each other have a right to get married whoever they are. That’s because they don’t think that marriage is about happiness and fulfillment at all, but an opportunity that some people have to reflect something beyond themselves. And sex, belonging there, is not for everyone either. A “right to marriage” makes no sense to them, for it is not something anyone has a right to. For some, this is a painful and difficult conviction, for it means permanent celibacy, to the constant scorn and derision of their peers, even, as I have talked about before, to the point of suggesting they aren’t human at all. But they choose to use the love they feel to serve and love outsiders, and they make homes that aren’t built around nuclear families but are family to everyone who comes in.

They aren’t feminists, because they think all philosophies based on selfishness are lacking in humanity. Much better to accept that a loving creator made us all different and that is fine, and we can work together to show what he’s like and that might well mean I don’t get to do the things I’d most like to do, and submission to that won’t hurt me or anyone else. Self denial might actually be a good thing.

They have depression and don’t hide it, but talk about it publically in the hope it’ll help others dealing with the same thing.

They spend Sundays plugging stuff in, moving chairs, playing instruments, serving coffee, welcoming people they don’t know, talking to a God they can’t see, singing (outside the shower and in front of other people) and sitting through sermons, even without swear words to spice them up.

They are wonderful godparents to precious children, even when their first response might be expected to be jealousy of your family. They weep for your pain as if it’s their own instead of being embarrassed by it, they say they’ll pray about it and really do. They paint your house, they cook you meals, they aren’t ashamed to ask for help when they need it, they move to strange places in the world with strange people to introduce them to an invisible God, they pitch in when there’s a crisis without being asked. They put up with awkward conversations with people with whom they have nothing in common, they live on hardly any money in order to have time to meet up and talk with people, they welcome people who are strange to them who are in need as peers and friends; they don’t set up projects and employ people to “help” them.

These are my people. My funny misfit radicals, actually rejecting the norm and doing something different.

Oh, and you probably don’t know about them because they swim against society’s tide of self promotion, of capturing and publishing everything to promote our endless fun to the rest of the world, to instagram and archive every moment so people know how good it was. There’s a bit in their book which says that their ambition should be to live godly, quiet, lives, loving the people near them, giving what they have for the sake of others, enjoying what has God has made with the hope that we’ll enjoy it without end. That’s what they do. It doesn’t make the papers because they aren’t interested in campaigning to silence or shame those with whom they disagree.

My radicals. My guys. Thanks for doing something really different, and taking all the flack that goes with it.