#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”. 

 

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.

A sofa-isticated faith

With a major row brewing in the church on the assisted suicide bill in the House of Lords, the Evangelical Alliance is encouraging people to pose this and other difficult and seemingly contradictory questions about Christianity. Dr Krish Kandiah, executive director of churches in mission, is tackling the most difficult questions that one can possibly raise about Christianity in the next week when he invites questioners to join him on the ‘paradoxology sofa’.

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“The issue of assisted suicide is engaging widespread debate on Twitter and in the pages of the national press. Rather than avoid these tough questions I want to encourage people to bring out their most perplexing queries and questions and have confidence to talk about them rather than hiding them away,” he said.

 

“Other tough questions being discussed are why God seems to sanction genocide in the Old Testament, why is there so much suffering in the world? Is God an egomaniac that he wants everyone to worship him? Is God racist that he chose the Jews to be his people? Rather than discouraging awkward questions I will be actively discussing them at Keswick.”
These are being discussed during week two of the Keswick Convention (19-25 July), where the his ‘Paradoxology sofa’ has been set up to engage people during his seminar series based on his new book Paradoxology: Why Christianity was never meant to be simple.(Published by Hodder).
He will be sporting a ‘Paradoxology sofa’ (whose upholstery matches the cover of the book) complete with matching cushions (which are printed with quotes of reviewers!). A prize is being offered for the best questions or paradox raised in a photo competition.
“It’s a bit of fun to help Christians begin to sit up and engage with some serious questions. I believe that Christianity is true and so we do not need to fear any questions but we do need to be on our guard against over simplistic answers,” he added.
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IF YOU WANT TO TAKE PART IN OUR LITTLE COMPETITION SIMPLY Tweet a picture of yourself with your question and use the hashtag #paradoxology. The best picture / question will be sent a book bundle including a copy of Paradoxology.

Summer Reading 2014

Books are such a wonderful gift and what could be more relaxing and refreshing that using some of the Summer holiday to get some reading in. Here are some of my Summer recommended reads:

Goodbye to All That – Robert Graves

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This is a fantastic firsthand account of life as an officer in World War 1. Graves writes very poetically and movingly about the both the horror and the madness of life in the trenches and how he lived afterwards. It is controversial as some parts of the account are contested. On the 100th anniversary of ww1 this is well worth the read.

1913 The World before the Great War – Charles Emerson

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This is a very interesting snapshot of life before world war 1 , it’s a strange thing how cosmopolitan and civilised relationships between the various european nations seemed to be before all hell broke loose with the bloodbath of the trenches. This is a fascinating global tour.

The Global Diffusion of Evangelicalism – Brian Stanley

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This is a very well written and enlightening history of the Evangelical movement in the english Speaking world from the 1940s-1990s. (read my full review here).

Creativity Incorporated – Ed Catmull

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Here’s the inside track on how Pixar conquered the world and then turned around Disney. Its an easy read with some great stories from life inside the world’s most successful animation studio.

Novels

Canada – Richard Ford

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I loved this book it was my favourite novel of last year. It had me from the first sentence and maintained both beauty, depth and intense readability all the way through.

The Fault in Our Stars – John Green

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This is a very good teen novel – it wrestles with intense questions such as mortality, disability, beauty and friendship. It is funny, witty and of course tragic. Haven’t seen the movie – am worried it will wreck the nuance and subtlety of the book.  If your teen is reading this – read it to. You will enjoy lots of it and it will give you a lot to talk about with them.

More than This – Patrick Ness

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This is a great bit of science fiction – its a quick gentle read with some great ideas floating around. Another good book to engage the teen reader in your household .

Help Needed:

So now I need your help. I am looking for some good book recommendations for my Summer holidays. I’d love some good novels. I am currently planning to read:

To Kill A Mocking Bird- Harper Lee
The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver
Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

Cover Photo by Lightgrapher  CC

Yes this is the best World Cup Ad ever

Wow, this video is awesome.
I love the joi de vivre.
I love the way skills long honed in practice are on display
I love the idea of people sharing their skills to bring a smile to friends and strangers
Well done for a beautiful piece of art – shame its advertising a fast-food chain…

Thanks to Jonny Laird for sharing this on twitter.

Local Hero

When I arrived at his house I had to double check the address. This was a very rough part of town and I was going to meet a High Court Judge. But Sir Mark Hedley is no ordinary judge. 

He has lived in a poor part of Liverpool for over 45 years having arrived  in the city i to study law. at Liverpool University.  Mark  became a Barrister in 1969 and right from the start developed a passion to help people who find it difficult to get access to justice. He helped to set up a free legal advice centre in the area and moved his family into the area sending his children to local state schools. He  sought to live out his Christian beliefs by living and serving in one of the less affluent parts of Liverpool.

He was appointed as a circuit judge for the Northern Circuit in 1992 and then he served as a High court judge from 2002 until 2013.

Mark and his wife Erica felt called to become foster carers and now have more than 30 years of experience. They had birth children that grew up alongside the children they fostered and they have ended up adopting two of their foster children who had additional needs.

I was impressed from the moment I met Sir Mark. Here is a man who cares passionately about his local area, who wants to turn his Christian confession into Christian service whatever the cost.

Mark breaks so many of the stereo types that I come across when I mention the words “fostering” to men. People seem to think fostering is for working class people or that it is somehow “women’s work” Sir Mark Hedley, High Court Judge and local hero breaks all of those stereotypes – maybe you should think about changing your views on who can foster? Is it something you are called to do?

Check out this inspiring film of men who are making a difference in the lives of vulnerable children. See here for more information.

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

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.

Fathers for the Fatherless

Fathers Day is a great marketing opportunity for pen knife manufacturers , greeting card producers and mens hosiery. It’s not an age old festival having only been created in the 20th century to complement Mother’s Day but I want to make a plea that we need to make the most of it .

I know it can be a sensitive time for people who have grown up without a Dad or even worse with an abusive father. I know it can be difficult for single people and childless couples who may be mourning the lack of opportunity to be a father. But nevertheless I want to make a plea that we make the most of it this weekend. Here are three reasons:

1. God is our Father

Despite their being some terrible father’s in the Bible story God is not ashamed to call himself a Father. The problem comes when we project our experience onto God – for example someone might say – “I had a terrible father so God must be like my dad.” That way of thinking is not a helpful way to approach God  – God is not just a projection or an extension of our understanding of things. God is the defining centre.  So God sets the example of what true Fatherhood is like, just like Jesus sets the example of what true humanity is like.  This Sunday we should take the time to enjoy and celebrate what it means for all of us to know God as our Father and offer everyone the opportunity to get to know him.

2. It’s not too late to become a father

Of course if you are going to talk about the Fatherhood of God that is something that every Christian can claim only because of God’s adoption of us. We have been given the right through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection on our behalf.

“But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.”

Galatians 4:4-5

God’s decision to adopt us into his family was driven not by any inner need in the godhead but rather was driven God’s compassion for our plight as vulnerable children (see Galatians 4:3-4). In the same way with so many children waiting in care for adoption – 100 000 children in the USA ; 30 000 in Canada and 6000 in the UK. There are plenty of opportunities for us to become an adoptive or father or at least to offer support to others who are seeking to foster or adopt vulnerable children.

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Spike was a Tornado Squadron leader now works as a Airline Pilot and Foster dad.

3. God calls us all to care for the Fatherless

Having been loved by God with unconditional adopting love. Should we not pass this grace and privilege on to others? God describes himself as “Father to the Fatherless” so those of us who claim to be his followers should be prepared to be the same for the Fatherless children in our neighbourhoods? Please help us to spread the word about this through our Father’ day church resource pack. 

Men, this Sunday as we celebrate Father’s Day, as we recognise God’s Fatherly love to us would you consider playing your part in a vulnerable child’s life?

Take a look at this little video on what it means to be a foster father.

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

 

Labyrinth of Prayer

Love the fact that our little local church is so keen to help all ages experience God together. This morning we continued a series on spiritual growth through looking at a number of spiritual disciplines. This week we used the Labyrinth prayer experience as a church.

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All age travel guides

One of the exercises today involved everyone writing down a prayer on some special paper and then heading off into the Labyrinth. Once you got to the middle of the labyrinth there was a font with some water in that you placed your paper prayer into and it dissolved.

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Then you were encouraged to write an attribute of God that you appreciated as an act of praise in chalk on the floor.

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Then for your journey out of the labyrinth as you go on to face the world you are to take a psalm with you to meditate on.

A Psalm for your journey
A Psalm for your journey

All the ages took part today with some of us acting as guides for the travellers.

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Well done to the team that put this together!

My 7 year old daughter had a great time, though her prayer did make me laugh…

“Please God please don’t let me get lost in the maze.”

Other ideas for all age services here.

 

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:

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