Steve Chalke raises his head above the parapet on homosexuality…

steve chalke

My mate Simon pointed me to this article, written by Steve Chalke, of the Oasis Trust, and published in this months Christianity Magazine. For those who do not know this publication, it is the voice of Evangelicalism in the UK- read by mostly fundementalist, bible-first, charismatic (with a small c), conservative (also with a small c) Christians. I used to read it myself years ago, but found that it made me too cross.

In this instance however, well done to the magazine for giving air to Steve, who has no doubt summoned down the wrath of many of its readers on his head, but in doing so has opened up an important debate from on the ‘inside’.

Here are some of the things he had to say;

I feel both compelled and afraid to write this article. Compelled because, in my understanding, the principles of justice, reconciliation and inclusion sit at the very heart of Jesus’ message. Afraid because I recognise the Bible is understood by many to teach that the practice of homosexuality, in any circumstance, is ‘a grotesque and sinful subversion’, an ‘objective disorder’ or, perhaps slightly more liberally, ‘less than God’s best’.

Some will think that I have strayed from Scripture – that I am no longer an evangelical. I have formed my view, however, not out of any disregard for the Bible’s authority, but by way of grappling with it and, through prayerful reflection, seeking to take it seriously. My prayer, in writing, is therefore to encourage a gracious and mature conversation around an extremely important pastoral and theological issue that impacts the lives of so many people…

In autumn 2012 I conducted a dedication and blessing service following the Civil Partnership of two wonderful gay Christians. Why? Not to challenge the traditional understanding of marriage – far from it – but to extend to these people what I would do to others – the love and support of our local church. Our service also gave them the opportunity, surrounded by their family and friends, to publicly recognise their dependence on God and their need to be part of a supportive Christ-centred community to strengthen them in fulfilling their promises to one another.

Too often, those who seek to enter an exclusive, same-sex relationship have found themselves stigmatised and excluded by the Church. I have come to believe this is an injustice and out of step with God’s character as seen through Christ. I leave it to others to debate whether a Civil Partnership plus a dedication and blessing should equal a marriage or not. But I do believe that the Church has a God given responsibility to include those who have for so long found themselves excluded…

In my view, although motivated by a laudable concern for inclusion, many of the arguments that have been constructed in the attempt to soften or nullify what is the clear and uncompromising stance of Scripture unintentionally end up clouding the real issue – one of wider hermeneutics rather than simply exegesis.

Through my hermeneutical lens, the Bible is the account of the ancient conversation initiated, inspired and guided by God with and among humanity. It is a conversation where various, sometimes harmonious and sometimes discordant, human voices contribute to the gradually growing picture of the character of Yahweh; fully revealed only in Jesus.  But it is also a conversation that, rather than ending with the finalisation of the canon, continues beyond it involving all of those who give themselves to Christ’s on-going redemptive movement.

Rather than condemn and exclude, can we dare to create an environment for homosexual people where issues of self-esteem and wellbeing can be talked about; where the virtues of loyalty, respect, interdependence and faithfulness can be nurtured, and where exclusive and permanent same-sex relationships can be supported?

Tolerance is not the same as Christ-like love. Christ-like love calls us to go beyond tolerance to want for the other the same respect, freedom, and equality one wants for oneself. We should find ways to formally support and encourage those who are in, or wish to enter into, faithful same-sex partnerships, as well as in their wider role as members of Christ’s body.

I end where I started; in the coming months there will be huge and often heated debate around gay marriage. I am committed to listening and trying to understand the intricacies of the arguments on both sides. But, whatever the outcome and whichever side of the debate we find ourselves on, my hope is that as Christians we face what I think is the central issue – what does real, Christ-like, inclusion look like?

For those who want to engage with the theology of his argument, I recommend reading the article in full.

And in the mean time, I commend you Steve for using your apostolic voice to raise this issue in such a thoughtful and gentle way. I know this is an easy thing to do when someone agrees with your own opinion- it is much harder to feel respect for those on the other side of a debate.

Let us hope that there may yet be a time when the Church can be a place of radical inclusion of out groups- which is after all the Jesus way.


Three jars…

Wine 2

The first miracle that Jesus performed was at a wedding- recorded in John 2 1-11.

Why does John choose to tell us this strange story? What was Jesus doing at a wedding, encouraging people to drink to excess?

The use of wine as an analogy of plenty, of blessing, of the fullness of life, is found everywhere in the Bible. Amos talks of wine running down the mountains in streams, as a sign of the restoration of the land of the Israelites.

It occurred to me, not for the first time, that although we can not command blessing – we can never presume that life is going to be full of plenty, or without challenge – we can still live in ways that become shallow imitations of the life of outrageous grace we see modeled by Jesus. We cease to be people of passion, and become instead bound by cynicism and small boundaries.

So, open up a bottle, raise a jar, uncork the fizzy stuff.

Symbolically speaking of course…

Three Jars


Three jars are waiting by

One of water, one of wine

The other one lies empty


Like Jesus at a wedding feast

These jars are waiting to release

The living waiting for us


The empty jar is hollow life

Like a married man without a wife

Like a cake that’s never eaten


The water jar will fill us up

Then leave us staring in the cup

Wanting something other


But rich red wine will satisfy

Blood will flow, the days will fly

Our passion consummated


Blessed are the birds…

cave, birds


The feathered Eucharist


Happy are these birds above who

never have to go to mass.

Happy fragile feathered things with

light not stained by glass.

Blessed are they beak and claw; their air

Is ever sacred.


Blessed be their treetop temple, each twig

a flying arch.

And sacred is each song that choirs

from sparrows or from larks.

Happy are these crows and cranes

Whose Eucharist is endless.


And may the vaulted holy sky

Be full of wings as birds fly by

On their way to ruffled worship.


(With thanks to Juan Raman Jimenez, ‘The Silversmith and I’.)

osprey takes flight from nest

Imaginative encounters with scripture…


There are many ways to read scripture passages; some of you may remember a list I once reproduced here of some of them.

There is also this one- an imaginative reading. In this kind of reading, we immerse ourselves in one of the stories of the Bible- placing ourselves as one of the characters, seeing it from a human perspective, being part of the action. This kind of reading is often applied to stories from the gospels.

It is also a kind of interaction with scripture which appeals to people like me who write.

One of the passages I was given to aid reflection in my silence last year was the story of Blind Bartimaeus, in Mark, chapter 10. It is a lovely story, full of Grace, and here is my imaginative response;

Once-blind Bartimaeus

What a day.

There I was, sitting in the town square tying to sell a few pots, when everyone started to run down towards the road. Naomi and old Jebediah almost knocked each other flying in their haste.

“What is going on?” I shouted “What’s all the excitement about?” But no one would stop to tell me- they were all heading down to the road- even blind Bartemaeus picked up his stick and started to rattle his way out of the square, taking his begging bowl with him. Soon there was just me and old Martha who is so old that she has forgotten what day it is.

Despite myself I followed the whole village down the hill. They were all craning their necks to catch sight of something. “What is going on?” I repeated myself. Finally Naomi answered- “It’s that man Jesus- the Rabbi. The one I told you about. He is coming here! James saw him this morning and ran all the way back to tell us!”

Jesus of Nazareth! Of course I knew something of him- who didn’t? The stories were flying back and forward about what he was up to. Some said he was a new Prophet sent to speak to the people of Israel just like the old times. Others said he was a fraud who was just making trouble, and there had been quite enough of his sort in these parts.

There are even those would say that he is The One– the Messiah- come to fulfil all those old scriptures. Come to release captives, to bring sight to the blind, a declare the year of the Lord’s favour (if I remember my school boy Isaiah properly.)

What did I think of all this? A load of crap I said to all who asked- another loud mouth living off the bread of folk who have little to give in the first place. The country was full of ‘messiahs’ after all- every one with their own set of followers. Naomi is a little more gullible than me, shall we say- this was the third teacher this year that she had got all excited about. “This one is different” she would say, “he is not interested in money, or fame, or power- he just seems to talk about love and this thing that he calls the New Kingdom.” She also told me stories of miracles- but we have heard them before as well. A bit of religious trickery always seems to make people more ready to part with their coin. Naomi might live and breathe this sort of thing but I for one give it no attention.

Just then the crowd started to hush “He’s coming!” someone said. I was standing at the back as people lined the road, so I quietly climbed on the branch of a low tree to get a better view.

There were quite a few people on the road- mostly men, but a few women. I had no idea which one was Jesus- they all looked pretty ragged, but at the same time somehow ‘road fit’- these people clearly knew how to put in the miles. They walked in groups, talking animatedly and gesturing at one another- there was a lot of laughter and one man even turned a cartwheel to please the crowd.

Just then, right in front of me, blind Bartimaeus started to shout. He had no idea exactly how close he was to the travellers so he shouted really loudly;

“Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me! Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!”

Son of David’ no less- how did this beggar know so much scripture? His father, old Timaeus, used to have a broken down farm over the other side of the village and he had no time for such things when he was alive. This blind man was calling Jesus ‘Son of David’- more or less calling him ‘Messiah’!

The folk of the village did not like it- they turned on him. I think some were just embarrassed- an important, famous Rabbi comes to town and gets shouted at by a beggar- it just does not look good does it? Others thought Bartimeaus was after money (he normally was after all) although if he could see the state of the travellers he would have known that they did not have much in the way of cash. There were also more than a few religious folk in the crowd who were scandalised by the suggestion that somewhere in this ragged bunch was to be found Messiah.

So they hushed Bartimaeus, aimed a few kicks at him- but he would not be quiet. Even louder he shouted;

“Jesus- son of David. Have mercy on me!”

The travellers stopped in the road and turned towards the noise and the crowd went still- apart from Bartimeaus that is who shouted even louder. Then out of the group of travellers, a man started walking towards him.

I do not know why I had not seen him before- certainly he did not look much different, his clothes were just as ragged and his feet covered with the same road dust- but there was no doubt in my mind that this was Jesus of Nazareth. He had this presence, this quiet authority. Not the kind of authority that requires a title or a set of soldiers to enforce- this was something I had not seen before. There was nothing threatening about him at all, and yet I still found myself shrinking back a little.

This man would walk into any crowd and would become its centre. He could walk into a room and it would almost change colour. I at once saw what the fuss was all about- why he had upset people so much, why people were talking about him everywhere.

Bartimaeus was not at the front of the crowd- he was towards the back, quite close to me and I watched as Jesus walked towards him. The crowd parted like the red sea for Moses and I thought it best to climb down from my tree, not wanting to be noticed rubbernecking. I was then more than a little embarrassed to find myself standing almost right next to Blind Batrimaeus, who was still shouting for all that he was worth.

“All right, all right Bart old son” I said urgently “he heard you- and he is coming. Hush now!”

And he did. He sat there in the dust and blinked into the mid day sun, arms outstretched. I looked up and Jesus had stopped about ten feet away from Bartimaeus, and the crowd formed a ring around us like a thick hedge to keep in the goats.

He was close enough now for me to see his face. He was young – younger than me – that much I can tell you but yet I struggle to describe what his features actually looked like. All I know is that his face was so alive. His eyes seemed to be laughing even though his mouth was still.

I wondered then if he had stopped short of actually coming right up to Bartemaeus because he realised has was just a blind beggar- the sort that line all the major roads shouting for mercy. A man of no worth and no consequence. A man who some religious types described as bearing the consequences of sin. An unclean man, an outcast. The only reason that Bartimaeus survived at all was because people in my town remembered his mother, who was a good soul and had a lot to put up with what with her waster of a husband and her only child born blind, so many of us dropped him a coin or a piece of bread (when no one else was looking of course.)

Suddenly Jesus spoke.

“Tell him to stand up and come to me”

I realised with a start that he was talking to me- that he was looking right at me. And in the presence of this ragged stranger, my heart started pounding. I opened my mouth, but words seemed to have got stuck.

“Come on man- introduce your friend to me and tell him to stand up” said Jesus.

My friend? I thought- does he think we are the same? Was he mocking me? Certainly there was laughter in his voice.


Still, I bent over and spoke to Bartimaeus again “Come on Bart old son- he wants to speak to you.” I put my hand on the arm of this unclean wretch and helped him to his feet. “He is right in front of you, waiting.”

Bartimaeus put out his hands- he had left his stick on the ground- and took a step towards Jesus.

Then another, and another, until his hands were actually in contact with this strange compelling man. Jesus did not flinch as the beggars hands even began to explore his face; instead he opened his mouth and roared with laughter.

And his followers laughed too- not an unkind laugh; not the sort of laugh that happens when a man trips over a stray dog or a woman drops her bucket down a well. There was no victim to this laugh, rather it was an inclusive laugh- the sort that sucks you in and holds you in its embrace. It seemed to arise from a kind of emotion that I can only call joy. I found myself laughing too- really laughing. It was as if the trees and the stone walls laughed with us.

Then Jesus leaned forward and spoke again; “What do you want me to do for you?” he said, softly- so softly that I think only a few of us heard him.

That’s done it, I thought- clearly he has no money and there was no way he could take this poor wretch with him, wherever he was going. This is where it gets ugly again.

Bartimaeus did not ask for money though. Instead he dropped his hands, stood an inch taller and said this;

“Rabbi, I want to see.”

The crowd let out a communal gasp. Many had heard the rumours- lepers who had been made clean, mad men who were calmed, even a man called Lazarus over in Bethany who seems to have been raised up out of his own tomb. But talk was cheap and anyway things like that never happened in my town. Not here. Not to some smelly blind beggar who we all stepped over on the street every day of our lives.

But Jesus seemed to have heard only what he expected to hear- he appeared delighted. There was mischief in his voice when he said;

“Go on then- on your way. Your faith has healed you.”

And with that, Jesus turned about and started to walk down the road.

Is that it I said to myself. Is this the work of a Messiah? He throws out a few smart words then is on his way? I felt cheated somehow- despite my cynicism, even I had started to believe that this Jesus was different from all the other would-be Messiahs.

Bartimaeus just stood there- eyes wide open, wriggling his fingers between the sky and his face. I felt sorry for him.

“Well that’s that then Bart.” I said. “Come on up to town with me and let’s get something to eat…”

But before I could finish my sentence, he was shouting again at the top of his voice!

“I can see! I can see! I can bloody well SEE!”

The crowd parted again as he stumbled towards them, dumfounded as he pointed out the branches of the trees against the blue sky, the lichen on the wall next to the field, the marks he had made in the dust with his feet, and the smoke rising from the village chimneys in the distance. We all watched dumbfounded as he ran back to his stick, picked it up, kissed it then hurled it far over the wall shouting;

“Good bye you old bugger, I’ll not be needing you any more!”

Then he stopped in his tracks and spoke more slowly;

Go he told me- on my way. Where on earth would I be going… if it is not with him?”

With that, once-blind Bartimaeus was up and half running, half stumbling down the road, still with a hand held out in front like the blind man he used to be, chasing after Jesus for all that he was worth.

As for me, I stood with the others, watching him go- unable to take it all in. Unable to believe that the most important thing that ever happened to this town- no, the most important thing that ever happened to me– was wrapped up in the rags of this creature running like a drunken goat down the road.

I was wondering what it meant. Wondering what had just changed right before my eyes. Looking for something to anchor myself to, but not able to see it…

But that was all years ago now. Bartimaeus came back a few weeks later. He told us the story of what happened over the next few weeks. He was our eye-witness as to how Jesus rode in to Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey, only to be arrested on trumped-up charges and put on trial. Bartimaeus was there when Jesus was whipped and beaten up. He was there when they paraded him through the streets, and watched as they crucified him and hung him there until he died. He also told of how the curtain in the great temple ripped right down the middle and the sky went dark at mid day.

And Bartimaeus told us how a couple of the women went to take care of his body early in the morning, only to find Jesus not dead but alive– of how he met with his followers, and even let once-blind Bartemaeus touch his face again, and of how they all laughed till they cried.

Bartimaeus is my friend now. He lives with Naomi and I and helps me make pots- all those years of living by touch alone has turned him into the most gifted potter in these parts- people come from miles around to buy what he has made.

Or perhaps they come to hear the stories. Of a man called Jesus, who on some days even I have come to believe was indeed the Messiah.


sheep, snow, high contrast


Towards the beginning of my retreat, I wrote this;


Lost sheep

Through trees wearing ice where leaves

once were, I follow the map that

someone kindly laid for me.

Over stile that skates my boots and

into fields wiped clean, skittered

only by claws of creatures who watch

me blunder by from cover.

A hedge a road a bog a bridge a pause to

mop and catch my breath, a buzzard low in

silhouette, too-early lamb almost indivisible from

mother, who all but knits for him a jumper.

I am no-where. At least not where I

ought to be. Not mappable. No surrender to

conspiracies of cartographers.

It came to me that only when we

lose a path can we discover our own.

But these too have all been walked before.

lamb in the snow

Reflecting on silence…

st beauno's in the snow

So here I am, sitting on a lovely Virgin train leaning its way around the corners that lead me back to home. Just the place to reflect on the 8 days now past- spent in silence at St Beuno’s Ignatian Retreat Centre near St Asaph, North Wales.

I went with as few expectations as my over active imagination could avoid, just hungry to make a new spiritual journey towards God.

The experience was not about fireworks, emotional and spiritual highs, but it was every much a spiritual journey for all that- full of humour, grace and peace. You may also be surprised to hear that 8 days spent in silence, with little reading even, was rarely boring! I thought the best way to describe it was to share some excerpts from my journal, so here we go;

Friday (on arrival.)

(St Beuno’s) is a place that feels comfortable, in a rather staid way. Because of its Jesuit ethos of silent contemplation, people do not speak to one another- rather they walk past one another and do not as much as nod. To someone schooled in the primacy of communication, it seems somehow alien. I can not decide whether it is a relief not to have to make small talk with all these strangers, or slightly missing the overt hospitality.

(I wrote down some prayers;)

Free me from performance and the need to impress

Free me from the need to be liked

Free me from the need to compete in order to feel of worth

Let me be me

So you can be you


After a snooze I went to the Eucharist service. The out-of-placeness returned. Strange liturgy, ritual I did not understand and sung elements I did not know. I decided not to take communion as this seems to be a hot issue in the Catholic church at the moment.

I sat looking through the song book- lots of unfamiliar hymns and songs, but lots of familiar ones too. I came across this one and it made me cry

My song is love unknown. My Savour’s love to me: love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be. O who am I that for my sake my Lord should take frail flesh and die?


Brian (retreat guide) gave me a couple of pieces of scripture again- one from Isaiah and another from the Gospel of Mark…

I then sat in the summerhouse and read Isaiah 43 1-4- which is of course very familiar- it is the same passage that Mary and Andrew gave to us when we came up to Scotland. Hmmmm. The same mixed passage- about him being with us when we pass through fire and through waters. And then the bit about sending people from the north south, east and west. Did this happen? Is it just a co-incidence- it is a rather obvious bit of scripture to give to anyone who is feeling cut off from God I suppose? Let us just hold it there and see what happens next…

Interior, rock chapel, high contrast


(in the hills in the tiny rock chapel)

I intended to read some of the passages that Brian had given me, but before I did so I decided to listen to some music. I thumbed through the options of my Mp3 player and decided first on some choral music- that was enough to break open the floodgates, next I listened to black gospel, then Matt Redman- I was singing along and crying. Matt Redman had these constant references to breathing and breath, and each time I breathed there was a cloud of vapour mist. I spent nearly two hours in there in the end.


After lunch, a long walk- the sun is shining and I went over the other side of the main road, along some quiet lanes, and eventually up into the hills and forest, crunching the snow and putting up pheasants. I took no photographs, just put my head down and tramped. I think I must have walked around 6-7 miles.

On my return, after the bath, I was tired and a bit head achy and not feeling well. I did not go to the service.

If I go come home now, I would. Perhaps just as well that I can’t as who knows what the next few days will bring?

sheep, snow, hills


Time to go to the chapel and just be for a while.

…Back now after who knows how long- half and hour, and hour? I sat breathing out the words “Do not be afraid”, then the other translation “Peace be with you” words that Jesus seems to use a lot, and then I realised that I am not often at peace. I am usually either distracted (often with good things, but many times with trash) or slightly disturbed- chewing over things, picking at scars, hoping for things (particularly myself) to be better/more productive, more fulfilled…

…This afternoon and evening I did art. Lots of art! I am even sort of pleased with one of them… I am just back from the art space and it is nearly 11. I missed the service and everything.


Went out to Labyrinth and sat in the hut to read Mark 4, 35-41 (Jesus Calms the storm) and Luke 12 12-32 (The rich fool and not worrying)

I liked this from the message; “…not to be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving.”

There is the line too- “The father wants to give you the Kingdom itself!”

I went to the chapel for a while, then to the art space. Made a picture collage. Enjoyed it, and it more or less looks like I hoped it would. Needs a layer of PVA glue tomorrow. Also messed around with water colours- for the first time in years. Less pleased with those! I think I spent 7 hours in there- which went in a flash.


(with retreat guide)

We were talking too about reading the Bible, how a poetic reading of the Bible is different- no less truthful, but in poetry we read for a deeper truth. The words are just as precise, just as rich as any textbook, but they are set free to become active, even ambiguous. So it is that the words of God (as opposed the The Word) can come to lead us on and on and on. I suggested that I had often wished that the words of St Paul had been written as poems. “Or READ as poems” retorted Brian…

It is amazing how much we still communicate with others even in silence, or rather how much communication we perceive from others. You find yourself, after many silent days spent in the company of strangers, ascribing to them personalities based on clothes, body movement, smileyness and general demeanour. So there is one bloke who I have taken a dislike to as he stares malevolently at me, and seems to always push others out his direction of travel- particularly in the food queue. Then there is the shy woman who always scurries, and the self possessed at-ease-with-herself one. There is the man who wears expensive suits and exudes control and the nice bloke who I can only hold in the highest admiration for his willingness to fart at a silent retreat not once but three times- smiling benevolently throughout. I like him! What do they all make of me?

(after long journey in my head through Jesus death, theories of atonement…)

but this is enough for now. Pretty soon we are going to have a communion service, and I am going to take bread and wine.


Met with Brian- told about yesterday- he gave me the death of Jesus again, then told be to be silent, and then read the resurrection! Followed by good old Thomas.

I was fairly lazy today- spent a slow morning in the bedroom reading the passages, then in the afternoon took a long walk on a loop round some roads, back into the fields, then a bath, and it was time to go out for a meal with Maggy.

Lovely meal, now just looking forward to coming home…

In reading through these fairly random excerpts, I am not sure that they fully communicate the richness of silence as a means to open up deep things of this world and the next. I was not always purposeful or fully engaged in my silence- I am a past master at going into my own skull and disappearing- part of the survival skills learnt in a troubled childhood. However, there was always a turn around, new thing to encounter. If ever things became ’empty’, I did something else- I headed for the hills, one of the chapels, or made some art.

Thanks to the lovely Brian McClorry there was also lots of humour to be had! He has an impish intelligence that often tripped over into glee with who God is.

If you are considering going on retreat- go for it. It is something you are unlikely to regret.

Labyrinth, St Beuno's, high contrast


I will posting a few more bits and pieces from my retreat over the next days…


I am of for a few days then so the blog will be quiet for a week or so…

I leave you with this old poem from my book ‘Listing’. It seemed appropriate!

Sunset through rain

A time to be silent


There is a time for all things under heaven


A time for marram grass to move

In gentle air

And for the dying sun

To turn all green things gold

To alchemise the evening

Into a luminal place

On the twilit edge

Between here

And there


A time when the last call of the curlew

Will echo away over the dimming mountains

And the stillness is itself




A time for this day


To silence


The soul

Rediscovering silence…


On Friday (snowy conditions permitting!) I head off down to St Asaph, North Wales, to take an 8 day silent retreat at St Beunos Ignatian Spirituality Centre.  I suddenly know loads of people who are planning a retreat there this year- well, 4 or 5 anyway. It seems that the new direction of many of us who have been on a journey from evangelical/charismatic Christianity, via emerging/missional metamorphosis, is towards older forms of monastic contemplation- and silence in particular.

It is not surprising really when you think about it. People like me who have been immersed in leading worship have always been longing for a deeper connection with God. In the past the methods to connect have included the intense cauldron of ecstatic worship music, through to creating open spaces with non directive ‘stations’, or spending time in wild places watching the changing skies. The journey has been away from the large auditorium towards older, simpler traditions.

I do not think there is any kind of technique that gives us some kind of hot line to God. I do however remember the Abbot of Worth Abbey making statements about “silence being the window to the soul, and the soul being the window to God- it just works that way.”  It feels like the right time to test this theory- not just for me it seems.

Not without some apprehension however! 8 days in my own head. It might be an unpleasant place, a boring place, a dysfunctional place, a darn right depressing place. I expect to miss my home and family desperately. I expect to be tested and broken a little (or a lot.) Or worse than all of this, it could be an empty experience, a waste of time- a self absorbed narcissistic backwater.

Appropriately the Emergent Village minimergent yesterday was as follows;

If we were not so single-minded about keeping our lives moving, and for once could do nothing, perhaps a huge silence might interrupt this sadness of never understanding ourselves and of threatening ourselves with death.

Pablo Neruda


Falling into the arms of the Empire…


For years now we have had a more or less regular ‘housegroup’, which meets (as decreed somewhere in the Bible) on Tuesday evenings. A few months ago we moved out of the living room into a pub- it was time to change things around a bit. We have been using the shape of some of Brian McLaren’s writing to aid our discussion- from ‘A new kind of Christianity’. It is a great book, and has started to put some firmness into parts of my faith that had been decidedly muddied by all of the Emerging Church discussions and debates. (Not that I regret a single question mark!)

Last week we continued a discussion about how we might understand the storyline of the Bible. McLaren (or Bazzer as we decided to call him) suggested that many of us had become used to reading the whole of the Bible backwards through all those towering figures of our theological landscape, back through the Reformation, into the middle ages, then the dark ages, and in particular, the days of the Holy Roman Empire, which Bazzer considers the real cusp of the matter. At this point the new religion (Christianity) became mixed up not only with Empire, but also with Greco-Roman philosophy. The end result it that it is really hard to see backwards because of all the edifices that we have built along the way.

Read the book for more detail on all this, but we tried to chew a little on the Polarity of Greco-Roman thought- giving us the polar opposites of Platonic perfection and the fallen state of mankind. We did this by looking again at those early stories in Genesis- of Adam and Eve with their troubled offspring, the subsistence hunter-gatherers who became farmers, then city builders, and fanally Empire makers- the rise/fall of man.

Here, the Roman Zeus- living in a removed, perfect state, setting impossible goals for his ephemeral people to reach towards, and seeking to rescue a few only be the skin of their teeth (eventually through a legalistic confidence trick with his son Jesus) starts to come unraveled. Zeus is replaced by Elohim.

Looking backwards, we read the early stories of Genesis in the Greco-Roman philosophical polarity- perfection/fallen. The garden was perfect, and as we mucked it all up, we were cast out, imperfect, therefore God could not be around us- Plato again.

But Elohim never mentions perfection- he talks of things being ‘good’, or even ‘very good’. In these stories, the journey from the garden is not one of lost perfection, but rather lost innocence. Rather than going from a perfect state casting us out into the darkness, Elohim makes clothing, avoids issuing the death penalty as promised to those who eat the fruit of the tree, and so on and so on. Elohim constantly engages, constantly circles back into the rise/fall of mankind. Even when they start empire building.

As we talked about this, I saw Michaela becoming frustrated. Eventually she spoke up- “So why did Jesus have to die? What was his mission if not to rescue, to save?”

I have been thinking about this question and the discussion we had the other night. Unsurprisingly, it leaves me with more questions;

If there has been a ‘fall’ of man, is it really the kind of fall I grew up talking about- one of individual sin, inherited by each subsequent generation as part of our human DNA? This kind of ‘fall’ keeps us trapped in the old Platonic polarity. It allowed Evangelical Christianity to focus on private morality to the exclusion of almost all else and  the purpose of the death of Jesus in this understanding is to give a chosen few backdoor perfection– undeserved, but gloriously exclusive.

But there is this other version of the fall of man(kind) encountered in Genesis. It is a fall upwards- away from our root and branch engagement in the soil of the world that we live in- towards enclosure and management of the land first for storage of food, then for personal profit. The more we have the more we want and our ambitions grow to the sky like the tower of Babel. Then there is this word again- Empire. If there is a polar opposite to the Shalom of Elohim it is Empire. Power used and abused. Richness accumulated at the point of sword and on the backs of the slavery of others. From Genesis to Revelation this the Bible is shadowed by Empire. This fall is not an individual one, it is collective.

But Elohim does not retreat even from Empire. He is there in and through it all. Hating some of it, raging against it sometimes- particularly when his people accommodated with it- even became the enslavers themselves.

Back to Michaela’s question- Jesus death, in relation to this collective fall can be understood clearly in his own use of the words of Isaiah, spoken from exile, in slavery to empire;

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.

Isaiah 61

Here it is- the kernel of the nut. The Shalom of Elohim; the New Kingdom. A totally different kind of empire. One based on love of one another, on the joy of life and the refusal of the power of Empire.

The first kind of fall- the individualistic perfect/fallen polarity seems to have allowed for Christianity to exist within empire with hardly a ripple. It allows us to set aside the revolutionary stuff and focus on saving the few for the really important stuff, not the Aristotelian stuff of boring reality, but the Platonic promise of eternal perfection.

But the New Kingdom can not exist in the other kind of fallen world without challenging empire. We can not live alongside poverty, injustice disease, broken lives, etc without wishing, praying, working upon it the Shalom of Elohim.

Or can we? The forces of empire are strong after all…

Michaela told a story right at the end of a place she had worked- a job that was supposed to be all about community building- encouraging participation and engagement with marginalised people and groups. A new manager came in who knew all the language, but seemed driven only towards establishing and using power; she was building an empire. The rules of the organisation had changed overnight. Suddenly success was measured by a business model- by conquests won over other ‘competing’ community groups. It tore Michaela apart.

And there you have it; the shalom of God opened wide, but the Empire rises again. But Elohim is waiting…





One often cited description that Mandelbrot published to describe geometric fractals is “a rough or fragmented geometric shape that can be split into parts, each of which is (at least approximately) a reduced-size copy of the whole”;[2] this is generally helpful but limited. Authorities disagree on the exact definition of fractal, but most usually elaborate on the basic ideas of self-similarity and an unusual relationship with the space a fractal is embedded in.[2][3][4] [6][29] One point agreed on is that fractal patterns are characterized by fractal dimensions, but whereas these numbers quantify complexity (i.e., changing detail with changing scale), they neither uniquely describe nor specify details of how to construct particular fractal patterns.


Leeched like lime from this soil

The grains of me are gone


And falling away


Numbers swirl and tumble

Names all interchange

Heads of friends are hooded

Keys each night re-cut


In 66 we went to Spain you told me

The year before Charlene was born

Our wedding day was cloudy

Some song suggested



Am I portable?

Is there a jar somewhere to catch what is left?

Or do these memories become minerals

Feeding some darker place?


Hold me softly my love

For I am leaving