(Image from here.)

A great programme on Radio 4 this evening on the theology and history of the Magi– the Wise Men who, according to Matthew 2, visited the infant Jesus with precious gifts of gold, frankincense and Myrrh.

You can listen again here.

9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

I love this story.

The way the coming of Jesus sent ripples out far beyond the edges of the Jewish world. The way his coming was anticipated, hoped for by ancient people searching for signs in the sky.

The way that men of a magical mystical tradition alien to the world of Jerusalem and Bethlehem were so transfixed by the hope brought be a coming king that they were prepared to travel hard long miles to attempt to find him. Some stress the Biblical condemnation of sorcery and astrology in such texts as Deuteronomy 18:10–11, Leviticus 19:26, and Isaiah 47:13–14, but there is no condemnation in the account above.

The sparse account of these men in Matthew has been added to by tradition. Names were added, and somewhere along the way, people started calling them Kings too.

Most accounts believe the Magi to be from Persia- Zoroastrian scholars well versed in astrology, and their own deep spirituality. They had their own belief in a coming Messiah, and a virgin who would conceive.

Many believe that it was from the Zoroastrian tradition that some Jewish sects- the Pharisees in particular- came to believe in an eternal life (more about this here.)

It brings to me again the possibility of a Messiah who came for all- not just a pre-selected few.

New monasticism comes of age…

The concept of a new kind of monastic community has fascinated me.

Perhaps because I lack discipline in life, and so practising a deliberate spiritual rhythm has seemed both extremely attractive but rather out of reach.

New monasticism has gathered interest as a rather trendy form of church community- growing on the edge of ’emerging’ stuff. It has links with the 24-7 prayer movement, as well (of course) as much older traditions. It has a radical edge that is also attractive to me.

Today- driving back from Lochgilphead in the darkness after a long meeting- I tuned to radio 4, and caught the end of ‘beyond belief’, which included interviews with a member of Moot, and a general discussion about- new monastic communities. It was a searching discussion, which asked some important questions about the nature of monastic life, and whether this new monastic stuff really involved the same amount of ‘giving up’ and setting out on a real path of self sacrifice. Commitment is not for life- but for a season. Perhaps until the inevitable small group conflict begin! You can listen again on the i player- here.

It is also clear that some of the new communities do not seem to regard themselves as standing in the same tradition as the old monastic way of being- but rather seeking a deeper life (not necessarily overtly Christian.)

It is worth checking out the interview on the Moot site with Shane Claiborne.

I see there is a new Ning site- New Monasticism Network.

My own small community is in the process of chewing over what we mean by ‘community’.  We are going through what I can only describe as a 4 year barrier- when we are having to look to re-examine ourselves. It has been painful and challenging, if necessary. New labels and concepts are not for us at the moment- rather we just need to remember to practice the disciplines of friendship and love.

Because the formation of any small community, as previously discussed, can be a process of such incredible highs, and such terrible lows. Jonny Baker pointed out these posts by Ian Adams. I really liked what he had to say, which seemed loaded with wisdom- and I suspect, hard experience!

In any community there will be always be a lot of focus on what we do. That’s fine – the actions of the community, its surface life – are important. But behind the activity is something less obvious, more subtle, and perhaps even more important. This is what I think of as the spirit of the community.

Almost every family, project, team, society or business has a spirit or value system, often unrecognised, and sometimes less than positive. Gracious or greedy, caring or care-less, transparent or manipulative [or a mix of those] – the spirit of a community is how it feels to encounter it – and the spirit of thing has the power to create something beautiful – or to trash it.

Because these small groups of ours- they are very fragile. They need loving and nurturing. Sometimes we just want to walk away- and perhaps there is a time to do just that. But they also offer such hope and life.

So, whatever your label, may you find friends and fellow pilgrims to travel with. It is the Jesus way…

Faith and the internet- ‘Beyond Belief’…


Check out this really interesting radio 4 programme- this episode digs into the relationship between faith and the internet… including the bloke from Ship of fools, and St Pixels.

The discussion ranges from internet addiction, through to whether church can ever be ‘virtual’. Someone quotes ‘The word became FLESH and dwelt amongst us…’

You can download it as a podcast here.

Happy 500th Birthday John Calvin!

So, this week marks the 500th birthday of John Calvin, something which, given the preoccupations of this blog, was something I did not think should pass unmarked.

Happy Birthday John.

You turned your world upside down, and we stand in your shadow.

Or at least we did. Some say it is time to walk out on our own adventure.

To make our own reformation.

Praying for patience and grace on our own modern versions of Michael Servetus.


You can listen to a radio programme called Beyond Belief here that reflects on the enduring legacy of Calvin- half an hour of theology and reflection- well worth a listen.