Rowan’s been at home unwell this week and so I’ve been working in the living room to keep him company when I’ve not had meetings and activities elsewhere. This has meant that I’ve had a backdrop of TV as I’ve ploughed through emails and prepared services. Alongside computer games and some daytime TV (TopGear on Dave) I’ve had to try and concentrate whilst various classic films have played in the background; the highlights being the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie and one of my all-time favourites, The Blues Brothers.

Displaying I’m guessing most of you are familiar with Pirates of the Caribbean with Johnny Depp’s iconic portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow, the slightly deranged, selfish yet loveable rogue. It’s pure high seas silliness with drama and plot-twists aplenty. If you haven’t seen the films, especially the first, I recommend it. You may not be so familiar, however, with The Blues Brothers, a cult classic from the Eighties. The film stars John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as “Joliet” Jake and Elwood Blues. Freshly released from Joliet Prison, Jake is picked up by his brother Elwood and they visit the orphanage where they were brought up. They discover that the nuns that run the place are faced with closure as they can’t afford the tax bill that they’ve run up. The Blues Brothers decide to get the band back together, and seek to raise sufficient ticket proceeds to pay off the debt. Forget the plot though, that is secondary to great musical numbers featuring the likes of Aretha Franklin, James Brown and Ray Charles, one of the largest car chases of all time, and a series of wonderful one liners and quotes such as ‘Are you the police?’ ‘No, ma’am. We’re musicians.’ and ‘It’s a hundred and six miles to Chicago, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark, and we’re wearing sunglasses.’ Possibly the most famous quote comes towards the start of the film when Jake Elwood has an epiphany in church ‘I have seen the light!’ realising that in order to raise the cash he needs to get the old band back together again. Soon they get in trouble and are pursued by the cops. Jake fears that he’ll be heading back to prison, but Elwood proclaims that they’ll never be caught, ‘We’re on a mission from God!’

‘On a mission from God.’ It is the certainty of their calling that enables Jake and Elwood to face the challenges ahead of them and keep going despite the ridiculous odds against their succeeding. This is similar to one of the themes that emerged out of our discussions around Luke 10 at the Bible Study on Wednesday (like the Blues Brothers, this is highly recommended and increasingly popular!) It was the idea that our worth is found not in our work, in what we succeed in for God, but in our relationship with him. This doesn’t mean that we stop working for him, no, instead it liberates us to work without being fearful of the outcome. Knowing that we are valued by him because of who we are, his children through Christ, we are freed to reach out with his love despite any struggles or odds, knowing that whether people accept or reject this, it doesn’t change how God sees us, we are secure in him.

So don your shades, skinny tie, black suit and fedora, ‘cause we’re on a mission from God!

Kicking It Forward

Posted: February 15, 2015 in Faith
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So often it is only the dark side of the internet that we hear about in the news; I woke this morning to hear that it was going to become illegal to post inappropriate pictures of ex-partners online, earlier in the week I woke to hear it was internet safety day with talk of trolls and cyber-bullies. Like all aspects of human life, the internet has been affected by our fallen human nature. Today, however, I want to bring some balance into this portrayal, not to dismiss this side of the story, but to show that God’s image as placed in human beings, can still be seen here too.

There are some Christians I know who find the internet to be a worrying creation, the work of the evil one no less (a bit like the M25 on a bad day?) and avoid it like the plague, but I must confess that I don’t see it that way. Yes, I have a definite geeky side to my make up that revels in such things, but isn’t it such an amazing creation? It has revolutionised our lives in so many ways. We can communicate across the globe instantly through email, we can find almost any piece of information we want on the web and it is so much easier to find relationships with likeminded people than ever before, be that in niche hobbies or internet dating. Yes this can be abused, but it can also be wonderful. The work of the Sierra Leone Mission was transformed by email – no longer did we have to wait a month to hear back on every question that we asked but we would have news in a couple of days. Doing my recent studies I was able to have access to all sorts of information online that would have taken me months of digging around in libraries (still something I love) to find, and I have friends who have found marriage partners online and I have formed all sorts of friendships around the world through it. The creativity behind its invention and the myriad ways in which it has improved our lives is surely points to God’s image and handiwork through people.

Two other phenomena come to mind as well. Did you hear the story of the Katie Cutler who set out to raise £500 when she heard about disabled mugging victim Alan Barnes. She’d heard his story and put out an appeal online and was overwhelmed by the generosity of strangers her total in the end reaching more than £300,000. Millions upon millions of pounds are raised online each year for good causes. This is worth celebrating. Then there is Kickstarter, the online platform for raising money to fund various creative projects – a bit like artists having patrons in the past. A quite common phenomena on Kickstarter is the concept of kicking it forward; when the target that someone is seeking is reached and overtaking, quite often they pledge to plough back into other artists’ kickstarters some of the profit rather than keeping it for themselves.

This last concept, kicking it forward, is one that especially relates to scripture I feel where we are told again and again as recipients of God’s grace and forgiveness and love and provision to take what we have been given and kick it forward, passing it on to others in our lives whether they be friend or strangers. Sometimes the wider world can challenge us by its example as it demonstrates God’s image to us. How can we kick forward for God this week?

Church Newsletter Article

In my ‘former-life’ before I became a minister I spent my life thinking about the life from a different angle, that of a scientist. My interest in the natural sciences hasn’t waned since becoming a minister, finding science and theology as complementary approaches to thinking about what makes life tick and why we are like we are. Two stories from the animal world caught my attention this week featuring chimps and birds.

The first story is about nine chimpanzees who were moved from the Netherlands to Edinburgh. It had been noted before that Chimps in the Dutch safari park they came from used a high pitched call to request apples, but the Scottish chimps used a contrasting low grunt. After three years being with the Scottish chimps, the chimps from the Netherlands had swapped to using the same low noises. It seems that they changed their accent to imitate those around them in order to fit in and be accepted. It’s not just chimps that do this is it. As a child I lived for a number of years in Suffolk, just a mile or so from Belsey Bridge where we’ve had weekends away as a church not so long ago. At that time I spoke in a broad Suffolk accent. When we moved back to near Ely my accent gradually changed so that it matched the Fen accent of my peers, if maybe not quite as marked. No doubt it has changed again and now has a touch of London to it. It’s not just our language that we adapt is it, our behaviour, thinking and values gradually adapt to mirror those around us don’t they – a challenge to those of us who follow Jesus who believe that we’re called to follow his ways and values which often contrast with the world we’re part of. In the chimps perhaps we have a lesson to be alert to how the culture around us shapes us without us noticing for better and for worse.

The second story came from a study of fourteen northern bald ibises who fly, like geese, in a distinctive V-formation. Why do they do this? As a cyclist I know why. By flying in a group like this the ones behind the front can save significant amounts of energy. Good perhaps for those at the rear, but not so good for the one at the front who has to work harder! Studies have shown what has always been suspected; like cyclists in a train, the ibisis take it in turns, working in changing pairs, to fly at the front of the formation and drive the flock along. By working in changing pairs, something called reciprocal altruism, the flock make sure that no one cheats and everyone gets a fair time in the body of the V and spends the same amount of time at the front. This cooperation enables them to fly faster and for longer. Again a lesson in mutual care that we can learn from. If as a family we all look out for everyone else, then as individuals we have a large number of people looking out for us! This is far more beneficial and effective than everyone looking out for themselves. An illustration of the reasoning behind Jesus’ teaching that we should love one another.

Church Newsletter 8.2.15

2015-02-03 20.37.10Was lucky enough to secure a ticket to see The Waterboys last night at The Roundhouse on their tour to promote their new album ‘Modern Blues’. As I’d expected from this enigmatic band it was a storming show, a wonderful blend of old and new, with a lovely soul sound running through it as inspired by the new album. Managed to get to the front too! I love the way in which their gigs are a such a mix of songs and styles, and there’s always a surprise somewhere down the line. Mike Scott was at his rasping best, Steve Wickham delightful on the fiddle, transported and transporting us away with his magic and Ralph Salmins the powerhouse you’d expect on drums. Brother Paul on the keys was a wild addition with a Cheshire Cat grin that was as loud as his trousers (and that’s saying something!).  David Hood brought all his experience to play on bass, providing with the snappily dressed Zach Ernst on guitar that soul sound. If you’ve not seen them before and get the chance, grab tickets immediately!

setlist-image-v1

A Match Made in Heaven

Posted: February 1, 2015 in Faith
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This week Spurgeon’s Bible College asked me if I could send in an academic CV – I’ve applied to do further studies with them. In the process of doing it I remembered an article I did for a science journal, The Biochemist, in my early days at my last church when my science background was still fresh and recent. They were putting together a themed volume on the topic ‘Faith in Science’ and wanted a scientist who was a practising Christian to offer their opinion. Putting the article together was something I found highly enjoyable and gave me the chance to think deeper on this topic which inevitably is important to me. I have always struggled with being both a Christian and a scientist, not because I found they conflicted, but because I so often found that my friends who were scientists assumed that Christianity contradicted what they held to be true and vice versa, without ever really listening carefully to what was being said.

In writing my attempt to show that they needn’t be seen as contradictory I came across a wonderful illustration which helped me immensely. Imagine you’re watching a cricket match. The game is played by rules which if you watched it long enough you could work out. It makes sense and appears self-contained. Zoom out, if you will, and you’ll discover that there is more going on than meets the eye. Zoom out and you discover that you’re not watching the match ‘in the flesh’ so to speak, but are watching it on a TV set. This means that for you to enjoy it, you require the work of the camera men, producers and directors. In the same way we can see and explain the way the world works by science without reference to God. You can observe and deduce the scientific rules of nature without requiring to put him into the equations you use. But, if you zoom out, you can see God is at work, just as the camera man, producer and directors are, in order to bring that scientific contained world to you. Science doesn’t prescribe how God must work – it describes what he normally does (this incidentally explains miracles as the occasions when he chooses to do things differently). It isn’t a case of either or, but both.

Why am I sharing this now? Not just to encourage us to see science as good and not an enemy as Christians can do, but to encourage us to see God’s work in a much broader way that just religious things. The everyday working of the world we live in from the rain drops that fall, to the joy of a smile, to the sight of the comet currently cruising through the sky can be explained through science and explained through God, but I reckon they are all best enjoyed and appreciated when explained through both.

It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows my tastes to know hear that Rowan and I went to see the last instalment of The Hobbit trilogy of movies over Christmas. This was one of the books that got me into reading big time as a child, that magical opening line, ‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit’. Straight away that had me hooked. I wanted to know what a hobbit was, what they were like and why they lived in holes. I wanted to know about this particular hobbit and this particular hole. Fortunately for me JRR Tolkien answered these questions over the next couple of paragraphs, but the damage was already done, I was drawn in and obsessed with the tale and the world the Professor had created. A world which in a roundabout way was responsible for me becoming a Christian, and hence being here at Wormley! But that, as they say, is another story… (but I will ask a related question regardless, how can we present the Christian story in such a way as to draw people in and capture their imagination?)

So what did I think of the film? Like the Lord of the Rings movies before it, it was visually stunning. The New Zealand countryside with its sweeping vistas and rugged mountains made the perfect backdrop. The sets, costumes, and creatures were just as the book painted them in my imagination. The action scenes were incredible, a level of realism that only a decade ago would have been unimaginable. We came away having thoroughly enjoyed it, and sad that at last that Peter Jackson’s endeavours in Middle Earth were finally over.

But (did you sense that ‘but’ coming?) as much as I enjoyed it, I was left with that nagging feeling that it wasn’t the story I’d read all those years before. It called itself The Hobbit, it had the characters from the book in it and was about the same events, but despite these similarities, there was something about it that simply didn’t ring true. New bits had been introduced, new characters and new plotlines. Some of these made sense and fitted, but others left me scratching my head and asking why. More fundamental to my dissatisfaction, however, was that somehow in the transition from book to screen the focal point had changed. The trilogy of films seemed to be all about the action scenes and combat, whereas the books were about a journey, ethical decisions and grappling with what to do when the right course of action seems to be to go against your friends, and the discovery that the hero of the adventure was not one of the powerful, strong or magical characters but the unassuming, timid Hobbit, who represents in many ways us, normal folk.

In a conversation with one of my colleagues this week, the way we live out the Christian faith today was questioned. I disagreed with his conclusions, but was left with the challenge of the discussion to ponder on – are we serious about living out the Christian life, following the call and example of Christ, or do we sometimes play at it, living out a life that that we call ‘Christian’ but actually if we look hard at it, its focus is not on Christ but elsewhere, a bit like The Hobbit movie compared to the book?

Loved this sign from the Underground: