Category Archives: culture

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#Pray4Dawkins

Poor old Richard Dawkins. I am thinking about starting a new Twitter campaign #pray4dawkins. He has landed himself in yet another social media storm. But this time I couldn’t let it pass. So forgive me if I rant a little…

Hot on the heels of comments about date rape and his refusal to back down when challenged on Twitter, he has now offered parenting advice to any that will listen.

 

Look at the following Twitter exchange:

 

Notice the tone of the tweet.

Abort it – cleverly dehumanising the foetus. It’s not a person, but an object. Not murder, just termination.

But the kicker comes in the next line – it would be immoral to bring it into the world. Well at least he isn’t arguing for a consumeristic situational ethics: ‘If you don’t fancy raising a child with a genetic abnormality then chose for yourself.’

No, Dawkins has no place for this kind of relativism. He asserts categorically that it is immoral. So anyone who has carried a child with Down’s Syndrome to term and lovingly cared for the child until adulthood and often beyond as many people with Down’s Syndrome do not go on and live independently, has been immoral.

Dawkins shows his true colours. It reminds me of Friedrich Neitzsche’s book The AntiChrist where he criticises Christianity for resisting the will to power by instilling pity and compassion for the weak and the needy.

For example Neitzsche writes: “Pity preserves things that are ripe for decline, it defends things that have been disowned and condemned by life, and it gives a depressive and questionable character to life itself by keeping alive an abundance of failures of every type.”

It wasn’t long ago that Dawkins was arguing that religion was a virus of the mind and his friend Christopher Hitchens argued that religion poisons everything. Today we saw another side to life without God: human beings reduced to biology, people discarded if they don’t measure up to a certain standard.

Dawkins once described God as the worst villain in all fiction because Dawkins misunderstood Old Testament texts, thinking they promoted genocide. Well there’s a gaping inconsistency that sees Dawkins advocating genocide – wiping out anyone with an additional Chromosome 21. Sounds like if Dawkins had his way 40 000 residents of the UK who have Downs would not be in the world – that sounds a lot like genocide to me.

Dawkins argued in later tweets that autistic people should not be terminated because they are able to contribute to society.

How benevolent of him.

We are back to the utilitarian balloon debates and Dawkins is in charge of the seating arrangements. How do we judge who has made a contribution? If we are to be judged by our contribution to society I haven’t come across that many people whose lives have been made better because Dawkins has been involved whereas I had the privilege of being the foster parent to a beautiful young girl who had Down’s Syndrome. We poured love into her life from when she was only a few days old until she was three. When the time came for her to move on to adoption we hosted a party in our house and more than 80 people came. There were many tears as she left because so many people in our small town had had their lives enhanced because this little girl had touched them. But even if she hadn’t of made other people’s lives better, I believe every life is valuable irrespective of their utility. See a piece I wrote for World Downs Syndrome Day. 

Which other genetic groups should be eradicated from the planet? Perhaps Dawkins would argue that brown people should be next because they don’t make as great a contribution to society as white people? He did recently declare that Trinity College in Cambridge had more Nobel Prize’s than the entire  Muslim population. Perhaps we should IQ test in vitro and see if they measure up before we permit them to be born? Which other genetic abnormalities need to be purged from the gene pool? Dawkins once argued that we are DNA replicating machines – I am guessing people with a homosexual orientation don’t farewell under a Dawkins fuelled eugenics programme either as its hard to argue they will make good DNA replicators. I have always wondered how Dawkins managed to reconcile “survival of the fittest” with universal human rights, I guess we are finding out now.

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
Article 3 The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Another disciple of Neitzsche’s nihilism managed to get enough power to put these notions into action 75 years ago. I for one will be doing everything I can to make sure that all children born into this world find a loving home – atheists are welcome to help if they can find a way to live better than Dawkins’ philosophy suggests. I will #pray4dawkins that he “goes away and learns how to” love.

Ok that last bit might have gone too far, I do want to engage with Dawkins, my anger of his upside down morality not withstanding. I genuinely call those who are up for it to #pray4dawkins – no one has strayed too far to know the compassion of God.

 

Photo credit (CC) Annikaliegh Flickr

 

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 You might like this post on “5 Reasons Why Dawkins Should Know Better”. 

 

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Learning from women about leadership

I know it’s a little ironic, but I have been asked to lead a seminar about women in leadership. Full disclosure, I am not and never have been a woman.

I have decided to take the opportunity and to look for ways that women’s voices can be heard in the seminar. I am also hoping to co-chair the seminar with a woman. I decided to do the seminar because I believe in the conference that asked me to speak – they have a brilliant heart and a wonderful vision and also because I believe passionately that we need to empower women to lead at every level.

I didn’t always believe this; as a teenager a proofext from 1 Tim 2.11 was all I needed to close down the debate. I have learnt a lot about biblical hermeneutics and reading scripture in its canonical and cultural context since then. So I am leading this seminar from the perspective of someone who is absolutely committed to the infallibility of scripture and to women in leadership in the church.

I really want to include as many women’s voices in my seminar as possible and so I would  love your help. I have had some terrific responses when I asked the question on twitter.

I found the responses very moving and challenging (see below to read all of them) . Here are my reflections on the tweets I’d love to know your views – I am of course open to suggestion and correction. 

Three things I have learned so far…

1. Leadership Humility

I was struck by the gracious and humble tone of the advice. So many of the contributors encouraged patience and kindness towards those who opposed or rejected women’s leadership. I wish I could see more of this evidenced from people on both sides of the debate when they write about this subject – perhaps it is there but I have been reading the wrong stuff. Wherever we stand on this debate we need to approach this subject with grace and humility.  We are family together and  scripture calls us to be exemplary in the way we handle disputes and debates among us.  For those of us that oppose women in leadership we  need to recognise that the tone and language used to express your views can crush someone who is trying to follow God’s call on their lives to use their gifts. Leadership is often lonely and isolating and attacking someone’s honest and faithful response to God’s call is a dangerous thing to do. This is not just a theological issue : someone’s call to leadership is linked directly to their sense of identity. Similarly for those of us who support women in leadership we need to recognise that for those that don’t agree with us – this is often a question of conscience  for those who oppose us. It is a dangerous thing to ask another Christian to act against their conscience and we act carefully as we seek to persuade someone to change their minds. I was moved by the maturity and generosity of those who offered comment on my twitter question as they encouraged other women to be patient and gracious with those that stood against them.

2. Leadership Integrity

I found this tweet and many of the others like it very enlightening.  There were a lot of calls to be authentic, to be true to whom God has made you to be. I found these words encouraging as it is vital for all leaders to understand the right balance between knowing whom God has made us to be and how we live into that calling with the ongoing challenge of resisting the sin in our lives. 

 

Too often we overemphasise sin to the exclusion of our God given identity or we overemphasise our identity to the exclusion of the sin in our lives. Now some people will say we should find our identity in Christ and not in the role we have received from him and I do understand that. But the New Testament knows about the intertwining of call and identity – Paul writes:

” For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!”

1 Corinthians 9:16ff

I was moved by so many of the tweets that emphasised the need to be true to yourself in light of the opposition that so many women have faced to taking on leadership roles. It seems that many for many women leaders their identity has been challenged or dare I say oppressed by those that stood against their sense of call as leaders. I remember as a twenty something having a strong sense of call on my life to be an evangelist and a leader in my church telling me I should leave it aside and become a school teacher. I found it crushing that call on my life was being doubted how much worse it must feel to have large groups of the church oppose so vehemently so many womens’ sense of call on their lives to lead.

3. Leadership and Accountability

There were a lot of tweets that emphasised the need for support and accountability. For me that is where groups like Sophia Network have been so helpful . I loved the tone of Rachel’s comment:

I know that when I have felt isolated and criticised I have sometimes responded by  stopping listening to anyone’s advice or critique and to assume that I am always right – to become self-righteous. Rachel’s tweet is rich with wisdom encouraging us to find genuine friends both male and female to speak truth into our lives. Rachel; who has been a family friend since I was a teenager, is a terrific leader and   models the humility this tweet suggests.

You can read all of  the responses below:

(Photo was adapted with text but taken from JustArd’s lovely Flickr account)

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Spirit of Paradox

It is not every day you get to meet someone who has helped to start a genuine movement of change and restoration.  So you can imagine my excitement when it came to spending time with David and Mary Pytches – the couple who helped to birth both New Wine and Soul Survivor.

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David and Mary returned to the UK with four young daughters after serving as cross cultural missionaries in Chile.  Unsure what God wanted them to do they looked for a base in Chorleywood, which offered education facilities for the girls.  David was hoping to learn how to run a parish from the Vicar, but the Vicar was about to leave and David was offered the incumbency.  David speaks about his sense of inadequacy and eventually set up a daily early morning prayer meeting.   From this time saw an increasing number of people added to the church.   Mary recounts how they faithfully retained the liturgy at the same time as being open to the Holy Spirit.

Learning that John Wimber was coming to York David suggested that he call in on Chorleywood on the way.  It was an unforgettable weekend.   Despite very different ecclesiologicol backgrounds John and David hit it off and became close friends.   And soon David was helping John to find organisers for the UK conferences.

I enjoyed being able to tell David how grafeful I was for the Brighton Conference in 1986, where a friend of mine came to faith.  He later stood up in our class at our rough and ready comprehensive school and shared his new found faith in Jesus.  This was Steven Whittington – a key influence in my becoming a Christian.   It was great to learn about a young youth worker from a Baptist church where had run an open youth club, until the local teenagers rampaged the church.  The youth worker was Mike Pillavachi, who later became the youth worker at Chorleywood.

David and I had this opportunity to meet after he had read my book “Paradoxology” -  Why Christianity was never meant to be simple.  David explained to me that it was the title that grabbed him as he had reflected for many years on the paradoxes of scripture which we tend to brush under the carpet, which means our Bible teaching has no real integrity.   David reminded me of Charles Simeon, a great evangelical clergyman and bible teacher who had said

“The truth is not in the middle, and not in one extreme; but in both extremes.”

Mary commented on how we tend to cut God down to our size but ‘wouldn’t we rather have a big God’.   Interestingly we talked a lot about the liturgy undergirding our spirituality and both Paradox and Liturgy are things that James K.A. Smith has been arguing for recently.  Sadly many churches seem to opt either for intimacy with God or depth of teaching when there doesn’t need to be a choice.   Depth of true teaching should help us develop intimacy with God and our intimacy with God should drive us towards deeper teaching – it should be a virtuous circle.

David has kindly written a commendation for the reprint of ‘Paradoxology’ which is out soon.  It has some typos and corrections added thanks to those of you who spotted my errors.  The book will be even better  because of you.   David says:  “I have been looking for a book like this for the last fifty years and am so delighted to have found it.”

I came away from David and Mary greatly encouraged.  They are rare people who have experienced so much of God and done so much in His name, and in their seniority are still keen to bless others.

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Why are our hearts breaking for flight MH

With apocalyptic footage of a Ukranian field now filling our screens I wanted to try and reflect on why the shooting down of flight MH17 has had such an impact on us. I am thinking out loud trying to process what I am feeling and so am happy to have your comments and suggestions re-shape what I have written here.

It’s personal

I have many family members in Malaysia, many of whom travel to and from Europe regularly. My first thought was to phone or facebook family and see if everyone was ok. Our family suffered a terrible bereavement when one of our dearly loved Aunties was killed whilst on business in Mumbai in the Taj hotel. She apparently died of smoke inhalation alone her room when the building was on fire. We are all still haunted by how desperately sad her situation was and she is survived by her loving children who are studying abroad. In the global village with friends and family criss-crossing the globe this is a more common experience that these global events actually impact on us personally in some way.

It could have been us

I was trying to separate out whether it was just this possible personal connection with the events that has put a knot in my stomach. But following the reactions on social media, this awful episode has caught the imagination of so many people there must be more to explain this. I think the fact that most of the people that died on flight MH17 were Europeans who boarded an ordinary flight from a major international hub airport.  As Summer holidays begin today across the UK many families are boarding planes to exotic locations and so the proximity of these events rings true.

In one day 200 people were killed in Nigeria when a bomb exploded in a marketplace – this caused merely a ripple of media or social media interest – but to be honest I think that is because there is too much geographical, racial and social distance between most of us and the kind of people that lost their lives for the same emotional impact to be felt. Few of us are going to go and by our groceries in Joss for this to be impactful. Sometimes global events reach such dire proportions that they transcend the fact that they can’t possibly touch us – for example F16 bombers attacking a beach in Gaza where four young boys were playing or a Tidal wave wiping out whole Japanese cities or a militant islamacists abduct 200 school girls.

Another tragedy for Malaysian Airlines

This fact shouldn’t matter. There is no indication that Malaysian Airlines did anything unusual. It appears many airlines use the same route. Although questions are being raised about why so many other airlines chose to avoid this area and the extent to which economics played a part in determining routes instead of passenger safety. But the concurrence of two total loss disasters to one relatively small airlines makes this story particularly noteworthy. Business people have expressed a degree of sympathy with Malaysian Airlines for this double whammy.

Civilians caught in a War Zone

I wonder if the real reason this event has caused such anguish and will prompt global international outcry is because these civilians had nothing to do with the conflict. But civilians die in war zones every day. In Israel and in Gaza. In Afghanistan and Iraq. But these civilians didn’t mean to be in a war zone – neither do most people caught in conflict.

But you might argues that these civilians were not actually in the conflict zone they were 33 000 feet above it. But that perhaps is the symbolic challenge of the global outpouring of grief and pain towards those who have lost their lives under such terrible circumstances and the families that grieve them. Those of us who make up the minority of global citizens that can afford air travel often behave as if we are somehow detached from the suffering of poverty, injustice and conflict that are a normal part of life for so many people. Just as the terrible events of 9/11 showed the US there is no way to isolate ourselves from global conflict.

As the on board entertainment system displays a little aeroplane to demark our location as we cross the globe the people on the ground whose lives we are passing over are invisible to us. Its interesting watching the countries pass by underneath us. We cruise on by. Similarly the military personnel on the ground that spots a radar blip passing through the airspace above his BUK SA-11 gadfly medium range ground to air missile system. He doesn’t see impact that pressing a button is going to have on the scientists going to try and help end the AIDS epidemic. He doesn’t know that a family that a Malaysian family has already lost members this year when MH-370 went down will grieve yet another loss. He is not even present when the debris falls and the disintegrating plane and dismembered bodies hit the earth. So often the powerful make decisions that mean life or death for the poor and we  think can remain unaffected by the consequences.

Israeli airstrike kills 4 Palestinian children in Gaza

Human beings are not counters in a game of Risk. Passengers sitting on a flight are not acceptable targets. Children playing on a beach or people living in a certain part of Israel are not collateral damage for a political system or even an ancient narrative about land rights.

Risk

As a Christian I believe in a God who refused to play power politics like that. Who treated even the most socially marginalised people as worthy of respect and honour. Who showed mercy to the ethnic enemies of his people and indeed used them as positive exemplars. I believe in a God who didn’t look down at the earth as a google map but came and took on human flesh, lived among us, “moved into the neighbourhood” he didn’t drone strike or missile attack his enemies he healed their families and challenged his followers to love them. He didn’t breeze through places ignoring poverty , sickness or social exclusion but was constantly interrupting and being interrupted on his journeys to care for those in need.

At this terrible times our prayer and thoughts are with all those who are grieving the crew and passengers of the ill fated flight and for all those civilians caught in the cross fire between Israel and Palestine and in the conflicts in Ukraine and Nigeria.

 

 

 

 

 

 

philwatson

This man is a legend

There are some guys you meet and you know you are going to be friends for a long time, Phil is one of those kinds of guys. He is the kind of guy you want on your pub quiz team not only is he brilliant at banter but he knows his 1980s music trivia.

Phil works as a teacher in his local secondary school. He’s an avid music fan and has spent his youth writing to music magazines and going to concerts. Phil helped to set up and run an innovative youth programme called Kidzclub in Liverpool which saw hundreds of children; many from challenging backgrounds coming together for fun, games and to discover more about the Christian faith. Phil’s wife Helenor works as a solicitor and for social services and felt called to make a difference with many of the children she was working with in her job by becoming a foster carer. Phil admits that he had no plans to become a foster carer but initially got involved because of his wife’s enthusiasm. 3 years in and Phil believes fostering is one of the best things he has done in his life so far. He gets a real buzz knowing that the love he is able to pour into the lives of the foster children in his care has such an impact on their lives. Saying goodbye as foster children move on to adoption is one of the toughest parts of the foster carer’s roles but when sadly one of their children’s adoption broke down Phil and his wife have decided to step forward to adopt him. Phil and Helenor are spreading the word about fostering and adoption by running a city wide initiative to encourage more Christians to think about adoption and fostering – called Home for Good Liverpool.

You can hear Phil speaking here:

Father’s Day 2014: You know what a foster carer looks like, don’t you? from Evangelical Alliance on Vimeo.

 

Phil is going to be on local radio stations across the UK on Sunday; Father’s Day speaking about being a foster dad and the Home for Good campaign. Tune in and cheer him on!

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Social Media and School

Had a very helpful and interesting day with TISCA – The Independent Schools Chaplaincy Association.  We were thinking about Redeeming Technology especially looking at Social Media and the lives of teenagers. The teenagers in question are students in some of the most exclusive schools in the country and the chaplains are playing a very strategic role in the lives of these schools.

The day kicked off with an excellent talk on understanding the impolications of our belief in the Kingdom of God for online life from Rev Libby Talbot. I particularly liked her emphasis on the challenges and opportunities of new technologies. Libby had conducted a survey of the students at her school which yielded some fascinating results.

I heard a case study of how Romance Academy came into an independent school and ran a seminar on Sexting for years 9-10. The way they helped young people to navigate this new technology was to explain the statistics that say the average Sext is seen by 7 other people. This had a profound effect on the young people who saw the implications of their decisions making. This kind of common sense wisdom had a more transformative effect that

Survey of 140 students in a UK independent school this week

Which sites or social media apps do you use?
-       Facebook 80%
-       Youtube 63%
-       Twitter 22%
-       What’s App 57%
-       Instagram 70%
[ Notice Black Berry Messenger has disappeared completely!]

88% of those surveyed  use social media primarily for talking to friends.
72% thought that their social life was better when they used social media.
12% have been bullied online (18% haven’t been but know someone that has).
11% had sent or received explicit images from people they knew.

Next up was  a great presentation by Richard Moy who spoke about some of the safeguarding issues around cyber bullying and Sexting etc. Richard showed this video which is a response to the Look Up Viral video as a conversation starter.

I particularly liked the first hand comments that came from young people that Richard works with:

“Doing your homework on the internet is so great because it’s like going to the biggest library in the world right at your desk, but its also hard because the building that has the world’s biggest library also has the world’s biggest game room, the world’s biggest porn store, the world’s biggest casino, the world’s biggest mall and the world’s biggest lounge. Sometimes I don’t make it to the library”
14 year old boy

“Teens don’t want to tell adults about problems because they response from the adults is usually to block a site and then teens don’t have access to the sites they want to use for positive social communication.”
14 year old girl

My talk focussed on a political theology for Christian use of the internet – I am working on a paper on this and will publish it when its ready. I did get some useful feedback and comments from today that will hopefully make my paper more useful.

I began to think about the different ways that we use social media for different roles in our lives. What do you think of the following:

  1. Facebook – a live address book
  2. What’s app – more of a closed group
  3. Snapchat – instant / semi-temporary / personal messages
  4. Twitter – deemed impersonal by younger users but a good source of news and ideas.
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I have a confession to make… Paradoxological Thought #5

Big news in the pop world as the clean cut” One Direction” boy band members seem to have been caught on camera smoking marijuana. The discrepancy between their fresh faces, boy next door pop videos has set the tabloids ablaze with rumours. An incriminating video which apparently has “Louis Tomlinson, 22 explaining that ‘So here we are, leaving Peru. Joint lit. Happy days!’ The picture and quotation come from this report in the Daily Mail.

The child stars who go through a rebellious stage to prove they are grown ups is a sadly predictable storyline: see Zac Effron, Vanessa Hudgens, Miley Cyrus et al. But I have some sympathy with the challenge facing these young stars and starlets

- they face immense pressure to present an idealised image of yourself to the world
- the fact that once they turn a certain age their PR consultants probably advise them to redefine themselves as edgier by releasing sex tape or getting caught using drugs

None of that takes away the final responsibility for the decisions they make that of course impact their adoring fans view of life and success. We all must take responsibility for the choices we make; even if some of that responsibility is diminished due to extreme circumstances.

But most importantly I feel sympathy for them because I know the challenge of living a double life… listen in to my final Thought of the Day from Premier Christian Radio below. It is the final of five reflections based on my new book Paradoxology.  You can hear the other reflections here:

(1) (2) (3) (4)

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A matter of perspective

I couldn’t believe these amazing street art photos from: justsomething.co

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Its an amazing skill, lining everything up so that from just the right angle these 2D pictures suddenly take on a whole new dimension. It reminded me of the opening lines of a Tale of Two Cities “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times” was the French revolution the best thing to have happened to France – it depended who you were and where you stood. That got me thinking about  the most significant crisis in human history – was it a disaster or deliverance? The Cross of Jesus is either the lowest point in history or the highest point – it just depends where you stand…

Take a listen to a 2 minute little taster from the Cross Paradox which is taken from Paradoxology my new book which tries to bring a new perspective on some of the  most challenging parts of the Bible.

You can listen to the 3 other recordings here from the Premier Christian Radio Thought of the Day series I did here. (1) (2) (3)

For more Premier Thought of the Day material by other speakers check here.

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Paradoxological Thought for the Day #4

There’s been a lot of debate recently about which books should be included in the English Literature syllabus. “To Kill a Mocking Bird” is out and so is “The Grapes of Wrath” as they are not English enough. What is often missing in these debates is the way that English literature has been shaped by the Bible. So many of the key tropes and themes in our literature have been shaped and formed by the biblical narrative. For young people to fully grasp English literature they need biblical literacy too.

In today’s thought for the day take a listen to my reflections on one of the all time classics of English literature (even though it is based on the French Revolution.)
This is a taster for a chapter called “The Cross Paradox – how God wins when he loses” in Paradoxology. I hope you enjoy it.

You can access more of Premier Christian Radio Thought of the Days by a whole range of speakers here. 

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Paradoxological Thought for the Day #3

People grow up quickly.
Looking at the actors from Harry Potter on the first day of filming and then again on the last day is a strange experience. We all watched Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint grow up in front of us. We feel older and wiser as we recognise this fact but we also wonder where the time went.

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If you are a believer I wonder how long it has been since you became a Christian?  I look back on the last 27 years since a friend of mine helped me to become a follower of Jesus and wonder where the time went. I’d love to be more mature in my faith by now – I ought to be more mature by now…

I am trying to take some deliberate steps to grow in my faith and by God’s grace I hope as I grow I will be able to help others. My book Paradoxology tells a little a bit of the story. Listen in to today’s excerpt to see what I mean.

You can also click to  listen to Day 1 and Day 2.