The book of Daniel often gets cited as the model for Christians to follow because he doesn’t acculturate, famously refusing the king’s food. The thing is, there are people other than Daniel in the Bible who did acculturate and brought God’s salvation and transformation into the world by doing so. (Esther and Joseph being the two leading examples.)
In my last post, I wrote about how the UK and US churches’ use of Daniel to promote non-conformity is problematic; in this post I want to dig deeper into assumptions that underpin our ‘Daniel-only’ models of church.
One of my bugbears about the church in the UK and US, is the strong emphasis of non-conformity.
We’re told to be like Daniel and show our distinctiveness. We have to be bold like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who would face the fiery furnace sooner than bow down to the Babylonian king. As Paul put it in Romans 12:2, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world.”
This is a short story / sketch based on the events recorded in Luke 2:41-50. It is told from Mary’s point of view. You can read it and/or listen to me reading it here; to save the mp3 file (~15MB), right click on the audio and use “Save As..”):
We went to Jerusalem again this year to celebrate Passover. It was the third time we’ve been able to do so since Joseph and I returned to Galilee, but still it conjured so many emotions for me.
On the one hand it was good to be amongst family and friends, walking with them and seeing the children play together. On the other hand it reminded me of all that I missed during the years we were in Egypt. I heard the young mothers asking questions of the older women, receiving good advice and homely encouragement. It stung to be reminded how I didn’t have that community and I tried so hard not to begrudge them.
You bet I watched the royal wedding last Saturday! And I loved it.
I’ll admit, if I’d heard the words of Michael Curry’s sermon on your average Sunday morning, from your average preacher with your average congregation, I’d have been underwhelmed.
As it is, I’m giggling a little inside. It’s the thought of “I can’t believe he just got away with that.” A black American, an LGBT+ affirming Episcopalian, came into a traditionally white, elitist, patriarchal institution and said we’ve all got to love each other – and if we do that, we’ll change the world.
Everyone in the room had to shut up and listen. (Tee hee.)
And he was broadcast to over 1 billion people.
But it’s more than just the numbers. By speaking, this man carried representation for his nation, for people of colour and for people groups he campaigns for. It meant he was not just speaking his message – he was embodying it too.
And having a rip-roaringly fun time whilst he was at it!
He has certainly had an impact. Everyone has been buzzing about him and even some celebrities who are hardly Christian and not exactly people I admire (Piers Morgan, for example) are applauding him on Twitter. Curry has succeeded in showing who God truly is, in a way that people could see and understand and delight in.
Stop letting people who do so little for you control so much of your mind, feelings and emotions. – Will Smith
It came at a timely moment. Around lunchtime today I left a comment on a Facebook post written by a woman I highly respect. I’d invested a lot in what I said. It’s now gone 9pm and there’s no response. I also saw another Facebook post this afternoon asking a great question and I commented on that too investing my creative energy and thought process again. Again, no response. I saw some great tweets and retweeted them on Twitter. Nothing.
Good Friday is a day that almost doesn’t need anyone to preach on it – the story speaks for itself. As I was flicking through passion hymns in the book my church uses, I found one I hadn’t heard before by Vicky Beeching called “O Precious Sight”. The last verse is about resurrection, but if you leave it out and just contemplate the first three verses, there is so much there.
So I recorded a cover version and made a video set to photos I’d taken on various travels. It’s not perfect – the photos aren’t all in perfect focus, my singing has room for improvement and I’ve discovered glitches iMovie that means the video flickers in a couple of places. (Sigh.) Nonetheless, I offer this short video for those contemplating Jesus’ cross and the salvation it means for us.Continue reading O Precious Sight (by Vicky Beeching) – a contemplative video for Good Friday→
Only kidding! The themes for 2017’s theological reading seem to have been justification (and my discovery of a long-standing debate between John Piper and Tom Wright), hope and the kingdom of heaven, and prophecy. So here are a few short reviews of:
Why the Reformation Still Matters
New Testament for Everyone commentaries
Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries
Whole Life Worship
Surprised by Hope
(Actually, they’re not short. This post is about 3,500 words. Whoops.)
It is 500 years to the day (well, sort of, if we don’t worry about the shift to the Gregorian calendar) since Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses onto the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenburg, on 31 October 1517. His actions kicked off the reformation – a movement during which the protestant denominations split away from the Roman Catholic church.
Coming from a protestant background, this seems a fitting time for me to write 95 short statements on the themes of this blog. Of course, they don’t cover everything! But you’ll find in them thoughts and theologies that either have been, or will be, very much an integral part of my writing. (And when I’m cribbing someone else’s work, I’ve put their name in brackets.) I’ve split them into ten categories:
When I was a plucky secondary school pupil, I had an idea for a perpetual motion machine. I was beyond excited. I was going to solve the world’s energy problems. I was prepared to accept that maybe there was a glitch in my design that I hadn’t realised, so I prayed earnestly that if I was wrong then God will tell me that very same day.
That afternoon my older brother told me it wouldn’t work.
I didn’t believe him to begin with, but gradually reality sank in as he explained. As Scotty would say, “Ya canna change the laws of physics!” Unknowingly, I had been trying to break the first rule of thermodynamics – that energy cannot be created or destroyed.
Thing is, right now, I feel like a child again. I feel like I can change the world. Or maybe it’s not that I can but that I will – by the grace of God, in the wisdom of Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, in the fellowship of the church – change the world.
Is that me or is that not me? I don’t care! The world is going to change – and that’s what really excites me.
That tweet was in April. It’s now July. What I’m about to write is a mixture of theological thoughts I’ve been mulling on in the interim and talking over my husband – because he’s a fabulous deep-thinker who sometimes sees things I don’t.
When I’ve been talking to him about my ideas about virginity he’s said to me,
“OK but… this idea is like the fur of a cat. You can stroke it one way and it’s fine, but if you stroke it the wrong way, you get the cat’s back up. It’s still the same fur, but it doesn’t work. You’ve got to be careful with this.”
So, I could be on the wrong track, but even if I’m on the right track, you’ve got to look at my direction of travel here. Also, even if I’m on the right track and going in the right direction, this is a curiously complex issue. Again, it’s like cat’s fur: you can stroke a cat anywhere, but you can’t stroke a cat everywhere on its surface at the same time. (This is also called the ‘hairy ball theorem’.) In a similar way, what I’m about to say may not the have logical consistency the way we might expect at first.
That moment when I hit “post”, “tweet” or “publish” – I never know what the response will be.
Some of my most laborious works have been put out there with only the most meagre amounts of attention paid to them. Other times, what seemed like a passing thought has been whipped up and shared widely. Well – much more widely than my average.
Since I’ve been blogging, I’ve felt a tension between writing what I want to write and what I think people want to consume. Of course, there has to be a balance between these two. The frustration comes when I’ve written something I think people would enjoy but then don’t read. But that feeling of frustration isn’t the problem. It comes, it goes. Something didn’t work. I shrug. I move on.
The problem is the feeling of fear: You’re doing it wrong.
I can barely believe it’s been 20 years since the first Harry Potter book came out. I was far from your earliest fan, and won’t presume to count myself as your biggest, but I am full of admiration both for your books and for you as a person. I have so many things to thank you for – here are some of them.
My greatest criticisms of both Fifty Shades and the 2017 version of Beauty and the Beast come down to how they frame hope.
In Fifty Shades, Christian’s hope is vested in Ana, and the fear of losing her drives him to control her. In the 2017 Beauty and the Beast, Beast fares a bit better; he vests his hope in Belle’s intangible presence, which means he’s less controlling. But in the 1991 version we see something fundamentally different: Belle is Beast’s symbol of hope. When Beast surrenders to uncertainty he dies inwardly, only to be reborn into a new hope when Belle returns.
In these respects, I’d say Fifty Shades presents a hope that is Mormon, the 2017 Beauty and the Beast presents a hope that is Platonist, but the 1991 Beauty and the Beast presents a hope that is consistent with traditional Christianity.
Now you might say that’s over-analysing, but hey – I’m coming to the end of twenty-six blog posts that look into Beauty and the Beast in some form, so I think I’ve kind of already opened myself up to that accusation. I may as well keep going until I’ve said everything that I think is worth saying.
This is a long post, even by my standards (4,000 words), but if reading the above whets your appetite – keep going.
Once this five part series is done, I’m planning on taking a long break from blogging about Fifty Shades and Beauty and the Beast. I’ve got to the point where I feel like I’m either stating the obvious or repeating myself. But hey, this five-part series might be more accessible for some people than the 18-part, and it does have some new thoughts, so – what the heck, I’ll see it through.
Being and doing
Who we are affects what we do. What we do affects who we are. In a sense, who we are is what we do.
But it’s so, so easy to say you are one thing and have your actions do something else. For this reason there are some stories that emphasise it’s not who you are, but what you do that matters.
Take Batman Begins for example. Billionaire Bruce Wayne is told by love interest Rachel Dawes that he can’t claim to be some nice noble guy underneath his wealth and extravagance; she says it’s what he does that really matters. Little does she know he is the caped crime-fighting vigilante, though she finds out later when he repeats her words back to her.
But in fairness, the distinction between who we are and what we do, is a false one. Rachel Dawes draws a distinction because she wants to highlight the apparent shallowness of Bruce’s claim of being a nice guy really. Once she gets to know Bruce better, she realises that who he claims to be really is reflected in his actions.
This whole discussion about who we are and what we do is a really important one, because there are two big and weighty words out there that relate to our doing and our being: guilt and shame.
Welcome to part 3 of comparing Fifty Shades with both the animated and live action versions of Beauty and the Beast. CONTENT NOTE: I mention Christian’s sadism and his traumatic upbringing and quote one of the uglier lines from 50 Shades. Consider this your SPOILERS warning too; I will be talking about plot details of the live action Beauty and the Beast as well as some from Harry Potter.Continue reading Beast and Christian Grey: monsters or lovers? (Part 3: Guilt and shame)→
I don’t want to write a long commentary on this poem, but I will say that as I wrote it, I was reminded of C.S. Lewis’ sermon The Weight of Glory (bold emphasis is mine):
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people.
It felt fitting to have the image of steps leading into light as the setting for this poem – the sense of journey and pending entry. But there’s an added layer too: the picture is one I took in a stairwell at Manorbier Castle in Pembrokeshire, which was used in the 1988 BBC adaptation of Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (and which I loved watching when I was growing up). This castle is Cair Paravel, where – in another life, perhaps not so far from our own – Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy were crowned kings and queens.