Sunday, 28 December 2008

how should we then wear?

"I wondered if you came across in your time at L'abri anyone exploring Christianity and fashion? is art and what we wear functions as a work of art ... it relates back to your question about what place physical beauty has. Any further thoughts on that? The industry as a whole clearly has a lot of faults - but stripping that away do you think there is anything biblical there?" (Also see

There weren't any explicitly in the fashion industry this term at L'Abri, there were photographers and related artists, and generally fashionable people.. Artisan Initiatives at St Mary’s tends to have a gaggle of fashion industry types and they link to MFC in their publication, I haven’t followed it before.

Slowly I am preparing for the blog my thoughts on Christians, Craft and Image, and trying to take in idolatry and the environment all in one, it is a convoluted piece. So for fashion, just as with architecture, we cannot say a piece of clothing is inherently wrong, God made us creative, we are fallen, everything is a mixed bag.

However, I do think some fashion is virtually irredeemable, though I feel that about some architectures, and it is possibly an unhealthy black and white approach. But some systems of deceit and illusion, of slavery and production, of shallowness and addiction, leave in their wake such a slew of victims and offer such fleeting happiness to the consumer as to demand that Christians demonstrate that a more joyful way of clothing oneself is possible, even if that means making them yourself, Gandhi did, Shane Claiborne does..

But calling things ‘bad’ is relatively easy compared with affirming the ‘good’, where in post-structuralist, hyper-environmentalist architecture school ‘beauty’ is considered unnecessary or arbitrary or even damaging. There is a borderline pharasaical legalism around ornament, tradition and story. It is spilt perfume all over again.

Doing and wearing fashion as an expression of something within a language that is both meaningful and redemptive is so hard in a context where we often do not share signifiers (a guy wears a rainbow t-shirt to denote peace in one community, which means something else in another language community), and where we do not have sufficient information, indeed there are vested (pun intended meh) interests by companies in keeping us from knowing the means of production (so ‘fairtrade’ ‘sweatshop-free’ ‘green’ become sloganised and make a mockery of our petty morals).

It is difficult, the fashionable Christians too quickly pull the, God-made-me-creative-to-express-who-I-am-Stop-with-your-Puritanism, the less fashionable Christians too quickly assume some bizarre moral high ground, based on flawed theology that is anti-the-physical-body.. This is the same conversation as Christians and food, Christians and architecture etc, and my stock response leans heavily on a return to locality, to community, and to traditional creativity, which requires that I for the sake of argument eschew many of the fruits of a hyper-specialised, technology-enabled modern life; this is a noble hope, but is not an adequate compromise and comes with its own list of theological short-comings…

The efficiency of a machine age has been used a trumph card justify all means of production, to supply all confected 'needs'. When that which formerly was a legible meaningful expression, or 'art' as you have called it, becomes a fashion 'industry,' clothes become consumer goods, their meaning becomes impoverished and there comes a disconnect between producer and consumer, the gifts of nature - cottons, leathers etc - and the joy of using them, the creator and the creature. Out of this we struggle to live in meaningful gratitude, which almost inevitably reduces the entire transaction to the sum of its vices. Vitally the role of christians should be affirming relevent art and craft at every level, shifting people's default state from consuming to creating. The fashion born out of vanity, insecurity and bare greed is easy to throw stones at, a braver move is to consider the process of production and the language of decoration and how we can integrate these in contemporary life, in redemptive and joyful ways. Catherine knitted a pair of socks for Anna in the last week of term, it was a deep joy just to watch, as were all the hats knitted, songs written and pictures painted, the socks just seemed more fiddly. This sort of physical work should be a spiritual discipline, this sort of personal expression constitutes the sort of truly Good Work that we would do without being paid, it is redeemed work. And so for the joy set before us... I have not yet seen a theology defending the 'art' of shopping, it is not inherently wrong, but it is opted for on the basis of expediency, consuming rather than creating is complicit in fracturing community and cheapening the value of work and people.

There is another area to be explored, that of festivity, of parades and carnivals as sabbath time and their associated attire, playful wear and colourful story, and ways in which this should trickle down to the every day, if we only did not consider ourselves too sophisticated to play like that in any but an ironic fashion.

Here I am again filling cyberspace with unfootnoted opinion, tenuously strung together argument, self-evident truths mixed polemically with spurious conjecture.. and no Bible.. The question we're asking is How Should We Then Wear? And I would point people chiefly to AF's lecture on "Intentional Community as a Subversion of Modernity" and CSL's essay on "Good Work".

Sunday, 9 November 2008

rachel: creation and hospitality?

(I'm not dead, and I've not left this blog to become a forgotten piece of cyberspace clutter. Hopefully I can spend some time at Christmas collecting my notes from the last 6 months into succinctly bullet pointed thoughts on architecture, theology and intentional community.. In the mean time, Molly and Marie-Frances, linked in my little box are blogging out this term. I'm here til Dec 15, and would love the company of any of my single-digit subscribers. Below are few thoughts on hospitality after a little discussion here at the Manor. Love. P. x)

So Rachel, I asked the question. I should by now, after a term and a half of L'Abri have worked out lunch tables, how to play them and how to pose questions.. How regularly I fail at this. A question with the C word in it needs very careful chairing to steer it away from a creation/evolution debate.. but it was not an unproductive conversation, although a little fraught, and some people left more confused than they arrived, but it did clarify for me a few thoughts, so I shall try to condense the fruits of conversation and those that ensued that afternoon springing from the question, if indeed i understand your question correctly..

Lunch was at E's and she supposed early on that you had lifted this question from Making Room, I hadn't realised there was a creational or environmental slant offered in the book, which she returned there was and that your question pertained to the parallel drawn in the book to God as host in nature. Did it? Needless to say, having my question thus defined for me, it ran away with itself dissecting the metaphor of God as host, the 'goodness' of creation, abuses of 'ownership' because of not understanding the both/and tension of being a part of nature and apart from nature. To a point where A had to interject to stop people using dominion and domination synonymically, so the lunch table's confusion emerged out of largely semantic issues of word definitions, and an attempt to then define hospitality left people at a loss, was the good Samaritan showing hospitality on the road? Is hospitality just loving people? It was all quite amiable, for better or worse, as the hospitality question is one i feel strongly about and I would sooner the conversation had ended in tears and people had fought for something than that we bumble through in a cautious and removed manner. Following lunch the de-briefs in the nooks and crannies of the manor were more clarifying.

I would venture two interpretations of the question as you have put it, firstly, and the one I see less to be gained in, there is the take on the question that looks at nature, 'fallen' though some suppose it to be, and extrapolate models for hospitality. This was presented by one at the table, drawing on Jonah and the vine that grows up to shade him. Further though tenuously, one can read in nature the way nests, colonies and shelters are constructed, how space is shared in an ecosystem and how symbiotic relationships between animals are enacted.

But hospitality is a more complex issue, a moral, relational, economic, even symbolic concept. The first take offers healthy provocation, particularly to consider ourselves as dependent creatures within a finite system, and to acknowledge the debt of knowledge as well as resources we owe and all that we still have to gain from a healthy relationship with nature and its systems. More clear to me are the profound tertiary impacts of our emphasis - or lack of - on making a home a home, on the environment. Simplistically one can cite negative impacts, where the demise of a culture of hospitality creates a demand and opportunity for brutally more resource-heavy and crushingly less-human means of accommodating visiting bodies in foreign cities, simplistically too we could posit roots of this in a fear of strangers, demand for luxury, and oil-driven expediency. Where once, or where ideally, there may have been an attitude and lifestyle among people that made possible travelling between foreign cities, finding there large families networked broadly and deeply in life-giving relationships to their neighbours and their soil, who were sufficiently engaged in a casual gift economy to make possible, even in their relative poverty, sleeping and eating provision to anyone who had need and this for the simple joy of new people and new stories at the dinner table, we now have exchanged the glory of this for an image of five star luxury on the company account, a lonely 50th floor hotel room, with sheets cleaned daily by an anonymous, faceless underclass, a private bubble kept at its perfect temperature, perfect placeless luxury. Do I make a point too romantically?

The counter argument given for this, even if we are willing to forgive its romanticism, is that an 'hospitality imperative' is a burden too heavy to bear, a duty typically performed by an exhausted working mother, making beds in the guest room after her 9 to 5, hoovering the hallway with one hand, feeding her children with the other, and all this to present and image and to tick a check box of the good christian household. I will concede that all the lunchtime sermons I preach, expounding the saving nature of hospitality are liable to lead to legalism if so understood, and thereby make also these lunching labrinis twice the sons of hell that I am.

So, I have tried briefly and tentatively to sketch 'hospitality' as the by-product of appropriate dwelling in the world.

- I picture in my mind of the green and blue marble of earth spread across with a vast web of relational links and clusters, at the junction of each tie is a home, our crabshells in which we eat, sleep and have our being, protected from the elements. I see the best domestic architecture not as the industry journal cover images, but as the unseen and anonymous framed worn paths and junctions, platforms for conversations, enriched gradually out of the commitment by a family to the story of a place across a span time longer than the life of a man and his return on venture capital.

- To achieve such houses, such homes, there is a need to fix in our worldview two states of being, 'visiting', and not-visiting, that is to say 'belonging'. And these as two distinct modes of being in a place, to avoid a disastrous middle way of non-belonging, consuming aliens, being both anywhere and nowhere, refugees fleeing each the city of your youth from home to uni, uni to first job, flat to suburbs. The state of 'belonging' contracts you to the ground where you meaningfully can honour your parents in front of those who have known them and be held to that geography by its beauty which becomes a part of you and whose land, weather, fauna are the foundation for your language, art, music, diet, identity. So the geography and architecture of the home are much less uprootable than modernism would have us hope.

- Heidegger said something to the effect of “Only once you have learnt to dwell should you build.” I quoted him more exactly somewhere.. What if you knew the secret of dwelling, of enduring all things in a place, of bringing life in dead places, of doing the next right thing for a place, of practising resurrection of a place, how then would we build there, how would we decorate, how would we conduct our households? I don’t know how much I project onto Heidegger and how much is in the text, but to dwell, to rest and work without angst, to be at peace, is practical as much as cerebral. To know that living in the second best postcode is ok, fearing nothing of fighting in the streets, being confident to let the stranger into your home, and sweating blood for love are all facets of the dwelling in confidence which is the only sufficient basis to begin to build. So on this basis not all houses have the same level of home-ness, home-ness it is a product of the amount of human emotional energy invested, for example the Manor House. If we believe we are here for the long haul, we should build like we believe that. And so too in our existing housing stock, in our rented flats and trailers, it should be a christian task of primary importance to redeem, to embellish, to restructure and make beautiful these spaces in God’s world because they are the primary places where one’s relationships are conducted, marriages consummated, meals eaten, games played, parties held, children raised, homework done, so too out of the relationships in these places it is here that personal meanings are formed and grounded, hopes expressed and dreams dreamt. All of these actions are ultimately exercises dominion over creation. Home is an extension of the self, the modifying device though which the raw materials of nature pass, the lens through which ideas pass, the expression of a view of the world and a hope for the world.

- So, the home is less, as corbusier is credited as saying, “A machine for living in” but rather “An organism for conducting dominion through” or even “An interdependent cell in the organism of a community for the redeeming of the world” .. And perhaps this is a useful image, that of an organism, the body of the church as it were, but crucially, making it physical, that each soul inhabits the shell of a home and by that gifted practically in bricks and mortar to form healthier cities, where the interaction between cells is hospitality, an exchange of love, conviviality, story and vision.. People truly 'live' only in relationship to other people. Homes are only truly alive in relationship to other homes? Households to households. Is it idolatrous to set up a practical-ly independent home? What is the joy of hospitality? What is the purpose of a christian home? What is the opposite of hospitality? Everybody has a home, if I can define it loosely enough, everybody has a patch of ground they lay their head, a bench they eat at, a manner of having dominion over space. And hospitality is the orientation of your life in respect to that dominion over space, outward or inward, do you share your box or not. The home is a tool for loving people, home is a gift, a grace of God, given and undeserved, making hospitality is a primary transaction of the gift economy, indeed an obligation if we truly are to receive it as a gift. Home is the point on the earth you invest your creative energy, draw on that specific land for food and for inspiration and leave your mark - architecturally, emotionally, ecologically.

- Hospitality is effecting the lordship of Christ over home making. Hospitality is the organising principle for a home that is the perfect third way, being neither a commune nor a nuclear family home. Hospitality is born out of an an attitude of enjoying the company of others, all others. Hospitality operates out of that nodal point in the web on the blue green marble, and its effectiveness, richness and beauty are increased and increased as the roots of the node go deeper into the soil beneath and as the supporting limbs of relationships to neighbouring nodes, the farmers, carpenters, local artists, babysitters, half-a-cup-of-flour-lenders and so on..

- One may stay in one place for the sake of the kids, for the sake of the elderly - those who most benefit from the security of regularity - and in order to move around as much as we do, we have needed to play down our commitments to these relations. But further, that which benefits them, is good for all, home is intergenerational, story is intergenerational, above all wisdom and understanding are intergenerational. We should exist intimately in intergenerational community. Home is crucially dependent for the sustaining and quality on being pursued by many generations together. Without the old we forget where we have come from, and expend incalculable energy reinventing the wheel, parenthood, cooking, and fashion each generation; without the young we forget our vulnerability, we loose our suppleness and humour, and we are at liberty to forget that we are fleetingly temporary tenants holding the plot for the next round.

The demise of hospitality can trace its roots to:
- The speed at which we are able to - and therefore do - live at. The jump from could to should live at is not self evident, and it is linked to faith in technology as saviour, and abandoned responsibilities to others, to relationships.. not making, earning, doing to give it away; not caring for the least last and lost.
- Likewise the culture of long working hours and commuting, motivated by misaligned notions of happiness, progress and then also workoholism and related addictions.
- Image based notion of the home, professionalisation of home-making to remote, economically motivated developers, short-term tenancy, a conception of housing as a disposable lifestyle accessory.
- Individualism, etc and all those systemic vices that most every L'Abri lecture defines itself by standing in opposition. Sigh..

So the gospel empowers us through a freedom from every fear that held us back, and motivates us by an obligation to a gift-economy transaction to practice hospitality, to orientate our lives and households around loving, feeding and sheltering anyone who has need, and this culture of hospitality is the primary spiritual discipline or lifestyle corrective to moderate our use, interaction with and redeeming of creation. Ho hum, I tailed away towards the end, let me know how these convoluted thoughts strike you...
Image: Rachel Bush's :-)

Sunday, 25 May 2008


May 26th to August 16th, 2008
Do write letters, postcards.. anything.
I promise to write back.

Phil Jackson
c/o L'Abri Fellowship,
The Manor House,
Liss, Hants
GU33 6HF.
United Kingdom

Thursday, 15 May 2008

is everything spiritual?

So we just enjoyed a bit of RB on a Wednesday night, complete with Rabbinic thoughts, quarks, comical banter, wow-science and fashionable black and white attire. I would highly recommend the dvd, it's entertaining, it's inspiring, and it goes some way to healing the science-faith divide, the dualistic view of the world that so impoverishes the science and the faith communities.

However, the DVD left me confused on some central points, and I should like to post some genuine questions regarding the jumps Rob makes and the way that he leaves it.

- Essentially, our post-match centred on the cross and sin questions, not simply where was sin in the presentation, but how would it have fitted into the presentation, had we had an extra whiteboard panel at the end, could we and would we have presented a fallen dimension to this world view presented. Rob presents a view of the world sufficient to live by, a certain way of viewing the world and that seemed to be redemptive in itself and I couldn't really gather what is so special about Christianity as the spiritual message would affirm all religions, or at least Judaism. As I understand his argument the essential problem is that of philosophical materialism, the 'two-dimensional' view of the world. Is then sin's essence the denying of the all-is-spiritual-ness of reality? Genuine question. Which then follows to the cross, what does the cross offer and can we construct it as atonement for this sin?

- Is everything spiritual? I didn't feel I got an answer. Meh.. I was entertained by the show (entertainment being our supra-ideology of all such discourse :-P), I felt left wanting, in terms of a defense of the main assertion. What then is physical? Is nothing is physical, we are all made out of strings, which are mysterious, therefore spiritual.. Is everything divine? Is everything spirit? Rob is accused of being pantheist, which is blogospheric hyperbole, yet, he leaves himself open to these accusations by not quite coming into land as it were..

- Then, lastly, I wonder who is the target audience.. Christians? Given that the audience is American, perhaps there is a certain presumed literacy of sin etc, and that the primary aim is to address certain internal misconstructions, chiefly the christianised dualistic view of spiritual stuff.. Meh.. If this were simply a presentation on the cosmological apologetic or a science-and-faith-compliment-each-other presentation, I would not feel such a need to insert sin or redemption into the program, however, given that he offers such redemptive conclusions, diy-the-kingdom, recognise-the-spiritual-nature-of-things-and-then, I feel like he is offering a more final world-view, in which sin is denied by omission. And now I feel like I am Bell-bashing like every other blog out there, honestly I'm not, I find his vision for Christianity compelling and vital, but I am hesitant to jump in with abandon before I can reconcile this broad vision for kingdom thinking with one that offers deep life confidence in experienced grace grounded in history, one which recognises the exclusive claims of Jesus, and one that I would suffer and die for.

Thoughts anyone else?

Sunday, 4 May 2008


- So following a to-and-fro about brokenness.. it's a dangerous thing to pray for. I think it was Will (van der Hart - St Mary’s) who, sharing a picture of a barrel with its tap barely dripping, first started my own exploration of a breaking and reshaping prayer. Prayer that practical clutter, lifestyle clutter, value-system clutter, relational clutter, fears and anxieties clutter would, as filtering and diluting constructs, be broken off and out of the barrel of my being that the dripping tap might become a gushing torrent.
- Following this, the ‘negative turn’ points made in Don Miller’s talk on Story, that it is never in the happy moments that the protagonist is really changed, but rather in the narratives in popular culture and in scripture, it is at those points of brokenness that character is formed and change happens.
- Then perhaps Mosaic church ideas, (which for a little while I thought referred to Moses.. apparently not) of broken vessels formed together into a beautiful image.
- And then this season of suffering teachings, JP etc..

I rather feel I’ve fought God for two years and I’m going to walk with that limp for the rest of my life. But some potential directions for this mode or prayer emerge as:
- brokeness that brings one to the end of oneself to find you only have God.
- and so a suffering that reveals one's Christ-treasuringedness.
- brokenness that makes impossible arrogance and self-righteousness.
- a humbling realisation of one's fallenness, creatureliness and weakness.
- brokenness in order to know that he makes us whole, he holds us together.

Following all of this, I think another conclusion, born out of conversation relating to suffering, is the imperative to fast, which is not so much to will suffering, and certainly not for its own sake or as proof of anything, but rather to examine those points at which one can and does buy one's way out of suffering. Fast Everything. Why limit it to fasting food? Fast your house for a week, fast conversation, your phone, your kids.. One at a time, but all things which otherwise inform you identity and comfort, all things over which you have some sense of entitlement.. And beyond the practical cushions, which suppress physical discomfort.. all the means of emotionally making oneself unavailable for pain might also be fasted.

The next logical step, which becomes somewhat contentious, is the hair shirt and the cilice. Which apparently Mother Theresa and St Francis, amongst other popular heroes were not averse to... Which begs questions regarding the nature of self-harm, character formation and religious devotion.. 1 Corinthians 9:27 etc..!) The nature of self-harm thoughts anyone?

Anyways, that is the trajectory of thought, between the housemates and myself, exploring breaking and suffering. That brokenness is not abstract, nor necessarily passively arrived at; it will change you, it should glorify God and I think in an age of super-abundance, rich-christians, and the veneration of comfort at the expense of social/environmental justice, I might do well to pray for a little bit of brokenness and explore a little bit of fasting.

A Franciscan benediction
This Franciscan benediction came up on the blogs and I thought to share it. It is more a prayer that God would give us secondary discomfort that might be directed into channels for empathy and into motivation for social action, which is a valid prayer to keep us from comfortable apathy, but is it a prayer for brokenness? Might a prayer for more profound brokenness leave the 'purpose' of the pain in God's hands?

May God bless us with discomfort
At easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships
So that we may live from deep within our hearts.

May God bless us with anger
At injustice, oppression, and exploitation of God's creations
So that we may work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless us with tears
To shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger, and war,
So that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and
To turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless us with just enough foolishness
To believe that we can make a difference in the world,
So that we can do what others claim cannot be done:
To bring justice and kindness to all our children and all our neighbours who are poor.


- I am captivated by community. I have written elsewhere, I think genuine Christian community offers something unique, I think community is not an optional extra for Christians, I would affirm, up to a point, that 'local church is the hope for the world' (Hybels), I find in architectural discourse the sheer confusion regarding the nature of 'community' cries out for a Christ figure to cornerstone their vainly hopeful 'community centres' etc. Within a Christian understanding, all relationships have a third party, (Mat18:20, Ecc4:8-12, Jam5:16 etc), every Christian is obligated to show grace to others (Rom1:14), each understands suffering, discomfort within a god-glorifying narrative (Rom8:18 etc) and no Christian need rely on another human for identity and affirmation etc etc…

- Community and unity are not exactly the same, I hope I can share some of my thoughts that I have had grappling with what community is, to maybe lend something to the unity question. I'm not in Cambridge I haven't even read, From Cambridge to the World, my understandings of things there are largely second hand, and they continue to baffle me, this issue of unity in cambridge, whose christian union historically and now makes disunity something of an art form, and it deeply pains me.

- Unity is not some pedantic legalistic end in itself - it is to the glory of God, and is arguably *the* outworking of an obedience of faith which is the (1John) third affirmation/assurance of the truth we hold to. Being one, being united, is the substance of Christian living, paralleled perhaps to marriage as a picture of God and the church. Disunity is to lie about God's character and to make Jesus out to be a liar.

- Out of that we might say unity is not a resting state or default, it needs to be *done*, we derive a theology of the trinity out of what we see Jesus do, and the way that he related to his father.. This Trinitarian God we say we believe in is attested to in the Father's love and Jesus' obedience, and this we know through his suffering, he was 'slaughtered' as a some measure of level of that radical obedience. If this is the measure of loving unity Jesus prays for, should we as a church of a city then be willing to die for one another?

- Disunity, even non-community, is not a neutral position, nor one in which the work of the enemy is absent. Jesus' prayer is also for the protection of his followers, as there are forces at work to divide, precisely because a unity of Christian believers would speak more gloriously of God. And so in this way the already proactive nature of movement towards unity, must also be combined with a conception of it as a spiritual battle.

- Unity is not abstract, you do not sign a DB that includes a unity clause, it is lived daily, it involves suffering. And God is glorified by community in tangible way, it is a manner of being in the world, which will moderate the fruitfulness of a group. Acts2:42-47 they ate together.. and the Lord added daily to their number. There is a danger here in citing this passge that it becomes a prosperity/numbers game, and that unity becomes a point scoring rote of works to appease God and glorify man. And while it is clearly not this in my own my mind, I'm not entirely sure I convey it. Anybody? God gives us the gospel to bring us to him and his glory, but also to bring us together, that he might be glorified. Making the two one (eph2:15 - stop me if I am misusing this..)

- Unity is expressed in community in practical ways, eating together, car-sharing, accountability, living together.. and through the lens of the environment, you use less resources, less oil, less green-field development.. I'm off on a tangent maybe.. these things glorify God? And also the accountability thing I touched on in the porn post, in relation to and Lauren Winner's Real Sex… Community is the context for discipleship, which is a framework for holiness and holiness brings God glory? Life lived radically together catalyses holiness? Not sure.. Soundbites soundbites..

- Is the problem of unity born out of the bounded set nature of doctrinal basis unity, rather than the centred set nature of the centrality-of-the-cross aim of these things in the first place?

- I'm confused myself as to how I would delimit the gospel, what is it and where does it go. There is scope, even while keeping the cross central, for disunity coming out of different takes on what is the gospel, what does Christian life then consist in, what does one do between new-birth and death? A problem of a reductionistic gospel is that it sees unity as neither a means nor an end to any biblically mandated effect. There is also a problem with a individualistic gospel, which emphasises *my* relationship with god, *my* salvation, *my* buddy Jesus.. maybe a corporate notion of salvation needs to be emphasized.. bible on that anyone?

- The bible talks in terms of a church in a place, the church in Ephesus etc, imagining this today, the church in Nottingham, am I being unrealistic? I'd love to see that sort of unity, (not at the expense of diversity in form and style between groups) but it is a paradigm shift away from this present understanding.. perhaps hope08 will effect a move this way. Word Alive I thought began to show a way forward for unity, with New Frontiers, Soul Survivor and the Conservative brigade all on one stage.

- There was an interesting note about fellowship by don carson at nwa, where he noted regarding 1Jn1:3 - "(approx)'Fellowship has become a plastic term based on who it is with: 'Christians', rather than the nature of the friendship, but in the original it was more like a business partnership, hands-in, buying into an enterprise" The uniqueness of Christian relationships speaks of the gospel to which they hold and the mission with which they have been commissioned. Jesus' (Jn13:35) prayer for his followers that - be known by their love for one another and the Jn17:21-23 purpose clause that the world might know and believe, makes the unity imperative and purposiveness abundantly clear.

- One lunchtime at nwa the question was amusingly raised of how much the education of all the wordalivers cost (our guess ~£140m) - the overwhelming majority being white-middle-class, almost exclusively university-educated and a significant proportion privately-schooled. I'm not making this a case against private education here at all (saved for another post..), but more observing the way we tend to clique on social grounds, become theologised in the tradition of that social clique and then conflate the two... I wonder if there is an element of this in the CICCU/Fusion thing, not necessarily in terms of race or class, but perhaps something of preserving social or stylistic tradition on 'theological' grounds… What are the demographic differences statistically between average Fusion members and CICCUers? Perhaps this is irrelevant.

- - "Q and A John Piper and Matt Chandler" (at about 47:00ish) they discuss intentional methods of promoting racial diversity in churches. The divide we agonise over is not racial but we are similarly impoverished in each camp if there are sociologically based camps and a trajectory towards cliquism.

- The repainting seminar illustrated the way damage is being done by those who would label 'spirit'/'bible' Christians, rather than by those who plod along in their own varying degrees of emphasis. This then drifts into questions about the validity para-church and the damage of non-intergenerational unity etc.. How many of you pray with your parents? And how do we avoid generational ghettoes? Enough…

How to unity
- It was interesting to see the efforts in Oxford, Vaughn Roberts and Charlie Cleverly swapping churches to preach for a Sunday in the other's church - Ebbes/Aldates, which represent conservative and charismatic ends of the spectrum there.
- Eat together.. a hospitality imperative..
- Gandhi's hungerstrike
over Indian/Pakistani disunity during Indian independence. I don't know much about Gandhi, I watched the film of his life a couple of weeks ago and I don't know how much of it is mythologised, but he certainly seemed to grasp aspects of Jesus teaching in a compelling way, in the power of a man unafraid to die and in the dignity of human life and in the desire that men be reconciled to one another.. Even if it is exaggerated or falsified, the film made for me a striking parable.
- Battle at the level of treasuring Christ.

- I would place unity really quite high on a list of emphases, unity being the embodiment of love, where love covers over a multitude of sins. (Prov 10:12, 1Pet4: 8)

Col3:12-15 Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

Rom5:5-6 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ

1Jn3:14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.

1Jn4:20 If anyone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot] love God whom he has not seen.
"…'revival' amongst 'believers' is not conversion, rather, it could be said to be a change of attitude towards a more outward-looking life concerned with the happiness-of-others, their joy, their fullness of life, and this would form community, this would form church, in place of doctrinal debate and denominational feuding would come a preoccupation with the wellbeing of people outside and inside the church…"

Friday, 2 May 2008

photography and mks

N started this, noting both P and myself were photographers of a sort and both or us MKs, were the two connected? What takes place in the photographic event? What lies at the root of the impulse to take photos? Why in some so much more than others?


Firstly, the question, ‘Why MKs particularly take photos’ is made difficult as the motives and influences are essentially subconscious. I don't have any grand assessment of the psychology of it all, there has never been a moment when photography was made a necessity. Neither do I have so deep a self knowledge as to be able to point to distinct photographic roots, rather as people ask me what boarding school is like.. I've never known anything different to compare it to.

Secondly, (lest my blog actually become about me..) I am strictly only tenuously an MK, and to be a ‘photographer‘ in an age when everyone is a photographer is indirectly to make an assertion regarding the quality (or perhaps quantity) of the work. Conceding that I have hobbied and worked at some small length within photography, I shall offer these thoughts.

One might cite some roots for MKs’ interest in photography in a need to capture a fleeting moments, being somehow more aware of the transient nature of place. Just as we more broadly as a society increasingly move between moments rather than living in them, and so try the more to capture those moments.

Photography can serve to distance one from reality; as an essentially private activity in a public space, perhaps it parallels the ambiguous private/public nature of a boarding school adolescence maybe. As a defence mechanism photography puts a lens between you and the object, for the insecure Phil who doesn't belong to this country.

The imaginative side could be attributed to a TV-less, make-up-your-own-games life at Chefoo, the beauty of life in the jungle. Art born out of longing? I don't know. That will pretentiously be how it should go down in my memoirs.


Some time ago I read Susan Sontag’s ‘On Photography’, I grabbed her quote below off a review online, but it provoked me to think, perhaps, although I can’t recall all the details of the book, that reading it may have informed the sceptical view I take of contemporary visual culture. She goes on in the rest of the book to paint photography as less innocent than simply capturing images, and ultimately to be destructive (?).. Anyways, this quote bears something on the MK question:

"The very activity of taking pictures is soothing, and assuages general feelings of disorientation that are likely to be exacerbated by travel. ... [Taking pictures] gives shape to experience: stop, take a photograph, and move on. The method especially appeals to people handicapped by a ruthless work ethic--Germans, Japanese, and Americans. Using a camera appeases the anxiety which the work-driven feel about not working when they are on vacation and supposed to be having fun."


I am provoked to think by aspects of my character that I see in others who have not come through the UK school system, and this question brings to mind TSP and OP, both internationally educated and both photographers.. and the various chinese photographers I’ve known at school in the uk.. Thoughts anyone?

I would wonder also, whether there was a theological aspect to it, beyond these motives to take photos, rather that what we read as ‘good’ photography lies in notions of eternal truth beyond the self, notions MKs may have had affirmed in ways suppressed by a more secular education system. Here I fear I overstep the mark, the question of good, beautiful photography demands another post.

[(ps.) - since writing I discussed the question with my mum, and she suggested that it was inherited.. whether this means perhaps that those photographically inclined are those more likely to go abroad and take their children with them, or by virtue of the nature of mission in our age, those called abroad in this fashion will be equipped and motivated to document travel. perhaps the whole thing is genetic, perhaps a meme.. can memes be recessive? can you have carriers of a photographic gene who don't also suffer from this affliction...]


The desiringgod blog has been thinking about photography recently:

why go in pairs?

Luke 10:1-3, Mark 6:7
Google gave me all manner of pages offering an answer to why women go to the bathroom in pairs.. a related but tangential question. Why two disciples? Why not three or even twenty-three?

It was interesting to pray on the streets in Cambridge, and the different dynamic that a group of three has to a group of two, in terms of presence and in terms of indecision. Clearly two, practically and biblically (Luke7:19, Deut. 27:6) appears to be better than one, but than three, is this simply for efficiency, if two can do more efficiently what three would do, in terms of proselytising-per-capita, then send out in twos. I think the go out in pairs thing is interesting, anyone got bible on why not three? Also why 12 disciples and why 72, beyond bible maths metaphors and Israel analogies, are there practical extrapolations for discipleship? And why bring a stick, some of the commentators suggest for protection. Anyone?

I think that Peter is absolutely right to encourage us all in this, I would be interested to know how it has come about that it should seem a new or profound idea to propose it, and how this prophetic (test it) notion for Cambridge and elsewhere, reflects a lack of attention to this model and what the root of this lack is.


Go in Pairs - Shane Claiborne - “(approx) It keeps you accountable, it keeps your feet on the ground. Community is good at lowering the mountains and lifting the valleys. Travelling in pairs affects the way you share a story. A big part of going out in pairs in being submitted to other people.”

Go in Pairs - That each one might have a helper, a counsellor and a sympathizer. (?ref)

Go in Pairs - Augustine - “living together with others is necessary for the cultivation of spiritual formation."

Go in Pairs - It is impossible to practice love in isolation. (?ref)


Luke 10:1-3 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. And he said to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves

Mark 6:7 And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.

Ecc 4:8-12 There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. "For whom am I toiling," he asked, "and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?" This too is meaningless— a miserable business! Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
Thursday, August 24 - a passage to India

don carson on john17:20-23

I want to share with you a bit on Don Carson’s commentary on John’s Gospel, as relates to John17, the passage of the moment for a few of us. I hope this is not very very illegal… for those of you who read the bible :P this commentary is excellent do go out and get one. I’ve bolded the bits that struck me, and particularly “the unity is meant to be observable” building to the conclusion “It is hard to imagine a more compelling evangelistic appeal”..

John 17v20-21
This extension to those who will believe through the witness of the original disciples assumes that their witness will in some measure prove effective. What Jesus prays for these believers-to-be is that 'all of them may be one' (v21) – a petition whose significance is further unpacked is the remaining clauses of the verse. This is not simply a 'unity of love'. It is a unity predicated on adherence to the revelation the Father mediated to the first disciples through his Son, the revelation they accepted (vv6-8) and then passed on ('those who will believe in me through their message' v20). It is analogous to the oneness Jesus enjoys with his father, here fleshed out in the words 'just as you are in me and I am in you'. The Father is actually in the Son, so much so that we can be told that it is the Father who is performing the Son's works (14:10); yet the Son is in the Father, not only in dependence upon and obedience to him, but his agent in creation (1:2-3) and his wholly concurring Son in the redemption and preservation of those the father had given him (e.g. 6:37-40, 17:16, 19) The Father and the Son are distinguishable (the pre-incarnate Word is 'with' God, 1:1; the Son prays to his Father; the Father commissions and sends, while the Son obeys), yet they are one.

Similarly, the believers, still distinct, are to be one in purpose, in love, in action undertaken with and for one another, in joint submission to the revelation received. More: Jesus prays to his Father that these disciples may 'also be in us', probably alluding to the 'union' language of the vine metaphor (ch15). They are 'in' the Father and his Son, so identified with God and dependent upon him for life and fruitfulness, that they themselves become the locus of the Father's life and work 'in them' (14:12, 15:7). All of this is to the end 'that the world may believe that you have sent me'. As the display of genuine love amongst the believers attests that they are Jesus' disciples (13:34-5), so this display of unity is so compelling, so unworldly, that their witness as to who Jesus is becomes explainable only if Jesus truly is the revealer whom the Father has sent.

Although the unity envisaged in this chapter is not institutional, this purpose clause at the end of v21 shows beyond possibility of doubt that the unity is meant to be observable. It is not achieved by hunting enthusiastically for the lowest common theological denominator, but by common adherence to the apostolic gospel, by love that is joyfully self-sacrificing, by undaunted commitment to the shared goals of the mission with which Jesus' followers have been charged, by self-conscious dependence on God himself for life and fruitfulness. It is a unity necessarily present, at least in nuce, amongst genuine believers; it is a unity that must be brought to perfection (v23)

John 17v22
The nature of the unity is further unpacked. The 'glory' (1:4) that the Father gave the Son he has transmitted to his followers. Exactly what is meant by these clauses is much disputed. Some tie this glory to that for which Jesus prays in 17:1,5, but this makes v22 necessarily anachronistic. On the whole, it seems best not to take 'them' as a reference to the original disciple alone, but as a reference to all disciples, including those who will (later) believe through the witness of Jesus' first followers. If so, Jesus has given his 'glory' to them in the sense that he has brought to completion his revelatory task (if as in v4-5 and repeatedly throughout the chapter, he may be permitted to speak proleptically and thus include his climatic cross-work). 'Glory' commonly refers to the manifestation of God's character or person in a revelatory context; Jesus has mediated the glory of God, personally to his first followers and through them to those who believe on account of their message. And he has done all of this 'that they may be one as we are one'.

John 17v23
Some measure of unity is the disciples is assumed, but Jesus prays that they may be 'brought to complete unity', sharing richly in both the unity of purpose and the wealth of love that tie the Father and the Son together. The purpose, as in v21, is 'to let the world know that you sent me', to which is now added the further goal, 'that you ... have loved them even as you have loved me'. The thought is breathtakingly extravagant. The unity of the disciples, as it approaches the perfection that is its goal (tetelimenoi – the use of this verb in 4:34, 5:36, 17:4) serves not only to convince many in the world that Christ is indeed the supreme locus of divine revelation as Christians claim ('that you have sent me'), but that Christians themselves have been caught up into the love of the Father for the Son, secure and content and fulfilled because loved by the Almighty himself (Eph3:17-19), with the same love he reserves for his Son. It is hard to imagine a more compelling evangelistic appeal.

John Commentary: - includes this quote in the pages available online

Other Don Carson Bits:

other books


So, Word Alive, it was some little time ago now, despite it being the source and subject of the largest part of conversations since, I have not blogged it.

There was, it seems, quite a band of bloggers at the event, for those of you who missed it:

The Piper talks are available and highly recommended at:

God is so good. What are the slim chances of being in the one 'impact-group' led by the one l'abri worker at this 5000 strong conference, I don't know about thunder claps, pathetic fallacy or whether in the eschatological scheme things there will be thunder in the new heavens.. but this was a moment of clarity like nothing else.

The conference slammed me on a number of things, quite aside from god giving me a light to see by for the next few months by godincidencing this l'abris chap out of nowhere. Nic puts the week as an "interesting, hard, weepy, angry, mind-turned-inside-out-stretched-into-bizarre-and-terrifying-new-places kind of week" Yes, no, absolutely.. I am wrestling with this gospel, with integrated spirituality, with rich Christians in an age of poverty, with defining ourselves by what we are not, and with the community:optional Christianity… the conference by its very medium and by its white-middleclass-ness and by the things (discourse on the environment etc) notable by their absence did more to stir these issues than settle them. The roots in the platonic dualism of the misunderstood gospel were opened up in the disintegrated/integrated seminar.. this I need to work through

Positively I took away so much encouragement in a Christ-centred, bible-saturated faith. Old people, wisdom and history and confident scholarship are things lacking in the circles I have moved in.

- Suffering -

There is a theme, that now seems to have run in my life for several weeks, to include Fletch at CICCU on James 1, and St Barnabas on Lamentations that is that we must suffer, and be fully present in our sufferings.. but at the conference I saw suffering in a new way, beyond giving an apologetic response to 'why suffering?' but that suffering is such a potent witness, although to say witness gives it an agenda, suffering well should be the substance and fibre of a Christian.. I want to want it.

And it is a theology to die for, without punning, everyone and anyone 'believes' in Jesus.. so the crucial difference is if we are joyful to suffer unto death and still *believe* in and treasure Jesus above all, and the construction through which we frame and speak of this rather than that, simplistically speaking is theology.. And this is central in my plea that everyone hear and inwardly digest the notion of 'treasuring Christ', and this is *the* point that most Piprian preaching boils down to, and it is different in its substance to vast swathes of other preaching and it offers deep hope.

- John piper in the flesh -

How is John Piper in the flesh Peter asks.. this week was funny, frequently breakfast banter relayed a Carson or a piper eating Shreddies or doing normal things etc.. the comedy of Christian celebrity culture.. I’m formulating a blog post 'heresies, hoodies and heroes..' which variously seemed to be the subject of many conversations at word alive. Christian book-signings, bizarre, please someone give me a verse on it… but yes John Piper in the flesh, if you get a chance, do, he has such a grasp on the wonder of the gospel, and such a gift for presenting it, and in the flesh (?beyond the audio recordings) he has such expression and presence in the way he is totally captured and driven by the glory, sufficiency, supremacy and everything of Jesus, it inspired me and evoked a hunger to develop in myself such a richly biblical, verse by verse understanding of Christ; in interview he is humble, self-effacing, and gently wise. James and I are working through his Romans series, its like getting to a main course having been fed starter preaching for years.. however, even given all of this, book-signings are still weird. really.

The repainting the faith seminar wound me up, essentially it was unnecessary and divisive presentation, which seemed to rub salt in the wound of Christian disunity on campus. With all the good intentions of wishing to obviate disunity by drawing out offending doctrines and theological trajectories in Velvet Elvis etc, I felt they left me confused and ill-equipped to truly answer the questions that divide us, that is to say, (in part) what is the gospel, and what is its social dimension. I am afraid for those who perhaps have not been a part of fusion etc, that the seminar will have deepened their suspicion of these who are brothers and sisters in Christ. Having said that, the dialogue, and tentative desire to understand the other, needs to be affirmed and I am keen to be a part of moves towards deep unity, perhaps the seminar grated with me, simply because it is the single issue I wrestle with most.

Bloggers were cautioned in the Ovey 'Humanity' seminars regarding the taming of the tongue, in the light of 1 Peter 2:22-23, I have fallen short of this (even in the above paragraph..) On a related note, I don’t how if you caught this brief note by Piper, it is a similar challenge, to a Christ-questioning blogs like this which tries so hard to appear clever:

John Piper wrote @ April 11, 2008 at 5:04 pm Tell them that it takes relentless intentionality to keep a Christ-exalting blog from become a clever blog. The temptation to entertain is almost irresistible. JP

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

you have heard it said

- I am conscious of the irony here, essentially I am saying “you have heard it said that you have heard it said.. but I tell you” Meh, either way, let me know if there is any currency in this train of though.. I find the 'you have heard it said, but I tell you...' model of preaching teaches people to be suspicious. It also engenders reactive rather than proactive models of church.

- The church is a body, a living entity, that can be damaged. No matter what the cessationists are saying across the road, no matter what the charismentalists have going on on a Sunday night, no matter how old fashioned the church you grew up in was.. The church includes them, they are part of a bride.. I think we depersonalise 'church' and the 'old church' and the 'emergent church', 'the vineyard church' and perhaps my having transitioned variously, I have names and faces in many camps, and so should we all (not all transition, I learn from my mistakes, but we should all have names and faces).. If you establish your church in reaction against another church on grounds less than the centrality of Christ, the seeds of disunity are sown. Paul thanks God constantly for the people of Rome, because of their faith.. Rom1:8.. I don't know whether this necessarily extends to 'under-preached issues' issues, and if it applies to doughnuts, I think the question bears more on the nature of a blog and whether it is the foundation of a divisive church and the substance of its preaching rather than honest questions in search of eventual unity.

- Iconoclastic is a word I've just learnt, although I'm not entirely I know what it means, so i'll plough on ad use it until someone corrects me, I think its is an idol smashing mentality initially, although it works out into a reactionary negating of all that has come before..

- So on that, some questions.

- Are people in the emergent church happy? Who blogs? Is blogging life in its fullness? Why is it overwhelmingly men on here? How do you disagree well online? Is my online unblemished self capable of receiving grace? Do I need Jesus to give me a new identity if I can get a new one each time I start a new blog? Is online community true community? Why did Jesus come to earth in an age before the internet? Is off-line Christianity more or less iconoclastic, more or less fractured, more or less fruitful? ~conscious of the substantial overlap in participation of the two, the question is more of time and resources committed and the proportional fruitfulness etc..

cartoon -

the kingdom on holiday

Seeking first the kingdom on holiday:
- Where are you going? What are you doing there?To what end or purpose are you travelling? With whom are you going? For whom are you going? Spending whose money? To escape what? To gain rest in what, through what? To boast in what when you get back? ... What ultimately refreshes? How far does one have to travel to get that? What does a check-list of global destinations you've photographed yourself in front of do to advance mercy, justice and peace in the world? .. and will there be tourism in the new heaven and new earth?

- So I'm off to Wales. I think, rather like 'Your God is Too Small', 'Purpose Driven Life' is a book I should read, as it is a phrase I use, and the association may be misconstrued if the book is not indeed about what my use of 'purpose driven' would have it be about.. So, without being legalistic I am again convicted of a lack of intentionality in my life. I want to want this holiday to be purpose driven family time, purpose driven rest, purpose driven reading etc..

- Along with hand-washing dishes, holidaying in Britain is a notion of frugal discipleship for which I am indebted to my parents in establishing me in. (Prov 22:6) Issues of flying and whether or not the world is warming up are secondary to obedience and humility etc which are facets of that purpose towards which we are driven.. Is your honeymoon destination the most god-glorifying destination you can choose?

god in my

God in my... God in my thinking, God in my sleeping, God in my education, God in the car I choose not to buy, God in the nuances, God in my life speed, God in my cooking, God in my view of a good life, God in my timidity, God in my blogging, God in my house, God in who I eat with, God in the unclean, God in my urgency, God in my patience, God in my self-image, God in my indecision, God in my family, God in my hoping, God as my hope, God in my fasting, God in my temptation, God in my spending, God as my truth, God in my risk, God in my expectations for 133, God in my expectations for Nottingham, God in my intentionality, God in whether I move house, God in whether I move house again, God on my holidays, God in the face of everyone I meet, God in my life or death, God in my shaming, God in my joy always, God in my being fully present, God in my next right thing, God in my pride and pretension, God in the fear, God in my gods, God in my anger, God in my 'whose money and time is it anyways', God in my determination, God through my speaking, God as my comfort, God in my failure, God in my unbelief, God in my self-justifying, God in my plodding through a passive Christianity, God in who I would die for, God in this last term of 133. Yeah yeah?

romans so far

Things I have learnt from JP so far.

- 'I the God of Romans 9 will be heralded, not just analysed and explained.'
- The big question in life is not 'who am I?' but 'whose am I?'
- Second-handers. A notion from IMRand, those people who spend their lives trying to please others.. vs there is only one person we need to please.

- The God-centred-ness of God is good news. Do we long for God's Glory?

- 'Grace is an undeserved power and enablement freely given for ministry'
- If you take your love affair with democracy into your relationship with God you will destroy Christianity.

- We can issue a call for conversion, only God can issue a converting call.

- Rom1:7 'Beloved of God' – re James' thoughts on poor teaching on Love.. JP draws out excellently the love God has for his chosen: “If [John3:16] is the extent of your understanding of God's love, you are not a christian..(!) ..a testament to the lightness of contemporary teaching on love” What bearing does that have on the doughnut situation? (Doughnuts it seems are now going to feature in all Phil's thinking on love) So the Rom1:7 Love that we should feed on, that should strengthen us is is the Ex11, Ex36, Jer31, Jer32:40, Luke22:20, Rom8:35,37

- “We exist to share a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples”

- Don't be invisible Christians, don't look to create invisible Christians.

- Rom1:14 I am a debtor to Greeks barbarians etc (KJV) – JP draws out brilliantly the nature of this obligation, that we have received a gift of grace in such a way that our debt is not so much to God as it is to all the peoples.. If you don't give grace away in your life, if you don't spend yourself to share the gift God gave you, what you are saying is that you deserve it and they don't, that you earnt it somehow.. and that nullifies grace. Do we think of the cynics and anti's as people we owe grace to?

- Then two weeks, ideas about unity (unity being my current itch) Rom1:8-15 be a thankful people. Paul thanks God for people, the faith he thanks God for is not a depersonalised bag of 'faith'. Then Rom1:16 as more we understand grace, the more we are obliged to minister grace to each other, being conduits of grace is a mutual/body thing, Paul desires a body in Rome, not just individual professions of faith.

- Rom1:16 – “You will be shamed, but you do not need to be ashamed.” And this by despising the shame, via the joy set before you (Heb12:2) What things currently cover our shame, cushion the potential shaming as a result of the gospel: comfortable church? Etc.. You can tweak the gospel so it doesn't bring shame..

so porn..

The general thesis of this meandering post is that porn is not *the* problem and porn is not the *problem*. I am sceptical of the both the motives and effectiveness of preaching on it so.. Antonio, rightly, has badgered me to get this online, as I've been sitting on it for a while, I have assumed through this post that porn is wrong, and so in fact I deal with none of the issues of that conversation, leaving them perhaps for another post..

I hope this post is non-judgemental, I don't post it as someone who has it all worked out, my questions around these issues are genuine. This could so easily be construed as the selfsame shameless controversialism I would accuse some preachers of.. Perhaps.. I do want to open up a conversation that draws out answers to questions on the nature of sin and how structurally and theologically etc it might be addressed, I have thought to go through this whole post and inflect every sentence to a question? but didn't think it would help. The whole post is born out of the conversation, (if indeed it is) why is porn such a problem, to which these are only ventured answers in a train of thought.

- -

Porn in preaching, from one pulpit or another in the smattering of podcasts I dip in to, seems weekly more and more the fashionable sin to reference. The curiosity of this move has come up a couple of times in 133 conversation.. Essentially I would want to question the apparent orthodox hierarchy of sins that are referenced and railed against from the pulpits, the sex and drink duo appear as the scratched record whipped out for the applicationing sermon conclusion to congregations in this slim demographic of Christian teens to 20somethings I find myself in. What motive is there for preaching those sins, rather than any others?

The other day JW gave us the 1 in 3 christian men porn addiction statistic, as I sit there pewed between Jon and Alex, thinking if not me, then statistically one of them.. This notion and my presumption of its falsity (?falsity vs fallacy anyone) distracted me for the rest of the service. Dwelling at first on the largely semantic notion of what is 'porn' and what constitutes 'addiction' and who were the polled 'christians'; as today most everything is porn, or pornographied; that and we are an addicted generation, defined by our consumerism and escapism (and religious nominalism? perhaps less so, although the statistic might well be American (via Rich Nathan?)) For example, towards these definitions, one might derive such a statistic if one asserted that my fascination with artfashiondesign mags is influenced, in part, by that significant element within them which is sexualised. And from this, addiction could be extrapolated based on the frequency, motivation in reading and also the degree to which my readership informs my identity.. And equally to 'Friends', that argument could be made tenuously..

But beyond these semantic questions, I was distracted by the motive for his mentioning this statistic in the first place, and as an example of a trend in sermons, it is less the spurious statistic itself but rather the frequency and manner in which these statistics and shallow treatments are raised in sermons. While the frequency with which porn or 'those websites' are referenced to summon 'the' sin of our age, reflects the scale of the 'problem' at least as those preaching perceive it, I would question if perhaps the way it is addressed reflects a misunderstanding of the nature of the problem.

The nature of the porn problem: a problem or a symptom?
I would say symptom although I don't feel qualified to comment on the psychology of addiction: porn or sex, but rather in so far as I have and as often as I have done the porn thing it has rarely been about the sex, in and of itself, rather it was the manifestation of the outworking of deeper issues, as with most all sins. For me, an ambiguous introduction to sexuality preceded my on off flirtations even addiction to all manner of porns between ages 11 and 18, and now as even the temptation has essentially waned, I believe the underlying and primary issues still remain. Essentially I would site the porn thing as a symptom an unsatisfied need for connection but further (and this is in no way to deny my own full responsibility for my own sin) I would site porn as the outworking of social context and theological understanding, issues which I believe the church has a crucial role in ?sanctifying:

1 A symptom of the problem of community - lack thereof.
I was fed a gospel steeped in individualism that essentially considers community as an optional extra. This is conveyed explicitly in the doctrine which concerns your salvation, your holiness, your prayer, your relationship with Jesus, and implicitly, by a christianity that for me was strung between summer camps, essentially left to my own devices in term time. Mine is one story among many who struggle to walk in holiness in the absence of church and in the inadequacy of the para-church to fill that gap. This is a situation, I would presume, applies to Sunday christians, lone-ranger christians, and mediated online christians everywhere.. Such 1 in 3 statistics in part reflect where we are reaping the cost of the adoption of our era's individualism by the church. This is the undoing of the three cord rope, and the neglect of the person-shaped hole.

I am not advocating 'accountability groups' or churchianity, nor idolising the saving power of some institution with a name, and certainly not 'religion' which bullies and coerces people into holiness, but within the models adopted, big churches, small groups etc, but if and where the sited statistics are true, what gap has left the church body so susceptible to moral collapse in the face of the pornographication of society? I would venture that where people's concept of church is based only on the paradigm of Sunday meeting church, a congregation misses the deep relational and pragmatic basis of a defence in the face of an assault from porn-on-tap internet.

Lauren Winner in 'Real Sex' writes about community, through the lens of sex as an example of an issue best dealt with in that context. There is the problem that we have atomised our christian lives, to a detached suburban Christianity, we have made community optional; but also where we have community, we don't do sex in community, my experience of christian fellowship and community until recently had all and more of the taboos surrounding sex. So in cases such as these the problem is church not being church, not being naked and unashamed, not being transparent.

2 A symptom of deficient theology.
Bad theology, an inadequate understanding of sin, its doctrine and implications. This sin thing was refreshed for me, as I did the Environment sermon survey, as and where the environment and sins related to stewardship lean on a system of causes and effects, it brought in to more clear focus, the immediate gravity of sin here and now, and then in eternity. Sin, and perhaps it needs to be The-Message-ified, into some more pointed contemporary translation to conveys that it really does mess everything up. And if I say we play it down, I mean not just the sense of not speaking it in our evangelism.. I don't speak it in my head, and grapple with it, its much more comfortable when its abstract and out there somewhere. Basically for me this and a host of issues changed when my concept of sin moved beyond a ticklist of naughtinesses:
- a. If sin is taught as naughty things that annoy a man in the sky, or as things which exclude you from some holy huddle, or things which make you feel bad.. such teaching will never be sufficient to keep one from the draw of porn.
- b. Rather, if we write sin as selfishness, your will and desires put ahead of God and those of others, as that which breaks down relationships here and now and in eternity and that which actively destroys.
- c. These things that are preached as sin are things that will mess you up, mind body and soul, Steve Nicholson describes long term porn addicts he had encountered, and actually weeps on the recording. Listen to it now. ..and the whole series.
- d. And then - I never gave thought to there being another team on the pitch before these last charismatic couple of years – the notion of a spiritual battle, was painted as some way off, an abstract allegory to describe a struggle with temptation, along with Susie Sugar and the Plaque Police describing a metaphorical battle for clean teeth in your mouth. Childish. Rich Nathan is brilliant in his series on spiritual warfare from last summer starting: What is Temptation all About. Preach and equip for spiritual battle, if indeed this is one. 'Equip', yes with the bible and preaching, but equip, train, practice, discipline. When discussessing the emergent in terms of monasticism, (eg monasticism as a lifestyle of training in a spiritual sense, as you might for a musical instrument. Are we afraid to practice our religion? As Daniel 1-2 practice our peculiarity? I'm in favour of a return to liturgy and ritual, as far as neither them become an ism.. Anyone?

Is a deficient view of sin complicit in the trivialisation of porn culture, the objectification of women, the conflation of lust and love.. all/any of those?

The flip side of this is equally we have not (I keep saying 'we' as if somehow my own experience of church can so seamlessly be globally extrapolated.. I offer these generalisations conscious of the leap..) I had not had a view of holiness presented to me that was compelling. Christ calls an army of radicals, biblical wisdom is not merely a manual to do life well, it is a manifesto or call to arms for those who would love as Christ loved this broken world. So what is was missing for me us them, in this gap between 'salvation' and death, is a framework in which sin is not an add on and virtue is not an add on.

I find such a meta-narrative, or call it what you will, expanded brilliantly in John Eldredge's NPC 2007 on a gospel story in 7 stages. - In this namedropathon also check out Donald Miller's 'Story' which helpfully continued the theme of God as the writer of stories. ~Week 459 .. And then putting flesh and blood compellingly on living in that story in community, Shane Claiborne and the new monastic bits and pieces.. even for all those in the blogosphere who disagree with his and the emergent's theology.. (This is a tangent, porn may be rife in the simple living camp, I don't know..) But suffice to say, my understanding has more clarity, immediacy and need for a saviour, if I consider it framed in these ~biblical and current stories of radicals in spiritual battle, where sin is real and virtue is real and a picture of eternity is painted into which ripples are cast.

But probably, above and beyond all of these, we struggle more than we ought with sin, because our God is too small. Another book I should really read before referencing. But I'll plough on.

A criticism of the emergent church et al is that they are much happier with a incarnational Jesus, buddy Jesus than the massive Father God of the universe God (?ref for this). I find this preached in John Piper, the bigness of God.. Who writes the following regarding preaching God's unapproachable holiness, would this notion of preaching God apply equally into the area of sexual brokenness under which porn falls..:

“About five years ago during our January prayer week, I decided to preach on the holiness of God from Isaiah 6. And I resolved on the first Sunday of the year to take the first four verses of that chapter and unfold the vision of God's holiness.

So I preached on the holiness of God and did my best to display the majesty and glory of such an unapproachably holy God. I gave not one word of application to the lives of our people. Little did I know that in the week prior to this message one of the young families of our church discovered that their child was being abused. It was incredibly devastating. There was police involvement - Social workers, Psychiatrists, Doctors. They were there that Sunday morning and sat under that message.

I wonder how many advisers to us pastors today would have said, Piper, can't you see your people are hurting? Can't you come down out of your ivory tower of theology and get practical? Don't you realize what kind of people sit in front of you on Sunday?

Several months later the sad details began to come out. And the husband came to me one Sunday after a service and took me aside, and said, "John, these have been the hardest months of our lives. You know what has gotten me through? The vision of the greatness of God's holiness that you gave me the first week of January has been the rock we could stand on."

3 A symptom of this, which is really about that.
I am presently blessed to be meaningfully and accountably engaged with others earnestly seeking God, and now, compared to, say, the point I left Oundle, I have a deeper and broader understanding of theology, the bible and church, and particularly with regards to sex within those areas of thought etc, however, there still remains thirdly the need to connect. The Evanston series starts with this, and Rob Bell's Sex God, brilliantly draws out links and overlap between sexuality and spirituality. I'd say brilliantly, I should get my noted copy back and flesh this point out a bit, in a later post perhaps..

Essentially I think we should place our understanding of sexuality within this framework of integrated spirituality. We are sexual beings, our sexuality is a language, a force, an understanding of how we connect, and it goes beyond being something that we do, it goes some way deeper and points to something else, something other, beyond the simple in-out of Clockwork Orange. (And in this sense, I may contracdictmyself later by arguing that sexual sin should not be beaten up on as 'the' sin.. but there is something powerful in sexuality.)

An understanding of the whole person thing and an integrated better allows us to understand Christianity not as a religion but as man brought fully alive to by fully human. What then is the angle that should be taken on sexual sin?

Ben Witherington III reviews, summarises, applauds and critiques Sex God on his excellent blog:

'This being about that thing' then derives that the porn thing may not be about porn, which you may say is obvious. What then should be preached against, and how then should deal with the root?

Should we make porn 'the' problem, 'the' example, 'the' sin..
Where the previous paragraphs have considered, given the manner in which porn is referenced, whether porn is a problem - as opposed to a symptom. If we now ask whether it is 'the' problem/symptom, we are questioning its place in a hierarchy of sins, and the foundations for such a hierarchy. Possibly here I am broadening the conversation to consider a full gamut sex stuff, but even within that typically porn pips even pre-marital to the post.

The motives for choosing these sins might be:
-- they cause most damage, to character and relationships, lead most to further sins, and are the most deep rooted.
-- are most widespread, affecting the most people, most often.
-- are most appropriately dealt with in the context of Sunday speaking.
-- are those which people most forget about and so require most frequent reminding.
-- cynically they could be for an element of the risqué, to seize the attention of listeners, to appear culturally edgy,
-- or even to most effectively convict in a superficial way for the pleasure of those Christians who enjoy their self-pity.

Some discussions of porn in church come close to the line equating evangelical masculinity to struggling with porn. Pastors who assume that the male congregants are struggling with porn unless they have sought help.. Such defeatism begets or at least contributes to the problem. Just as the kid constantly accused of stealing money is as well to steal it anyways. Maybe I wish I was addicted to porn, for the way it is presented or just to be able to give my struggle a name.

“go and sin no more..” if we read this not as Jesus laying another burden on this well woman's shoulders, but that it is him speaking to her the freedom to no longer have to sin any more, does this have implications of our treatment of porn?

When we isolate sex into a course: The Pure Course for example, does this have the effect of detaching sex from our common life together in Christ? I don't think this post answers any of my questions.. Why a sex course, and not a money course? Rather as those churches that might decline to marry a co-habiting couple, yet not those who do not tithe etc..

What might we preach on instead, what other sins etc?
More helpful for me have been those which have questioned what else you do on the internet, besides pornography, those have challenged me, I spend too much time on facebook. How much is too much? Most any time spent on facebook is too much.. If you are going to preach on porn, preach equally on positive sexuality, make sex an open part of doing life together as it were. If not porn, lust and sex, I would venture so much more critical are greed, pride and apathy, these coming out of a unbelief, bad theology, and Christian individualism. Otherwise, preach on the Glory of God. Preach on the Cross. Preach on the imperative of community.

But anyways to conclude this, if the statistics are correct (52% xn men and 20% xn women) . this does not to me reflect a lack of beating up on porn, a lack of porn-Sundays.. etc.

I would venture that unless we know beyond knowing, unless we know deep in our being, who we are in Christ, who we already are, and unless proactive structures are in place of loving accepting and redeeming community we have missed the point and will lose the battle.,_Church.htm

Also check out: :-)


Unity as the heart cry of a generation, was something confirmed to me at Cambridge. Another bunch of students longing for a defragmented body of Christ, humbling themselves and living out those prayers that God would heal their land.. I and they would love to see one church to emerge out of this tangle, not 'one' particular group with a name and a slogan, not the polemic, iconoclastic new church beloved of emergents, but an agreeing to disagree humble unity under one head. Rom15:5-6

It was an awesome weekend all in all down in sunny Cambridge, there was one moment which will stay with me particularly, when Tom was retelling the Last Battle and I could see out through the college room sash windows, past the budding magnolia, to the dying sunset throwing glorious red over the relief of the carving of the classically moulded front across the still evening courtyard in Cats.. Perhaps there is something mildly saccharine in such a recounting.. It would be for want of my ability to convey with suitable literary subtly the quiet beauty of story time with Tom, and the immortal feeling that sat about tea and cake, we could have been in any century.. This and the Last Battle, which I have not heard for ten years or so, CSLewis tells our story, further up and further in, the hope we all have for that existence to be more fully human etc..

Among my new acquaintances is Nic, who like Phil Wilson, has a boy's name, likes John Piper and his podcast and has a godliness which is apparent and compelling, these may be connected..

Godly masculinity prayers over the weekend, and not for myself, although I and we all could do with more of it. I then regretted it, for want of a way of expressing it better, or at least non-judgementally, perhaps the notion of masculinity needs to be preached into our vocabulary.. (Jim a post for your under-preached issues?)

Good chats about nature and numbness, hell and the suburbs. Are these conversations the germs of a seed of structural urban change in our generation? Without vision the people perish..?Prov 29:18 ..A believeable vision for an alternative to atomised existence in suburbia that deals with the problem not cosmetically but at the root. Anyone?

All in all God has been putting a steady stream of people, Fi, Nic, Tom, Karen, James, JP, to point me towards a biblical christianity, that is to say a bible drenched christianity.. Just heard Jerry Root speaking on bethinking recounting a time in seminary when he questioned why his tutor was quite so happy that day.. he had just that morning finished reading through his bible in devotions for the 200th time. There we go.

Unity humility prayer and that. x