Provoked by discussion with fof.
I saw the last two episodes of the recent Sherlock. Ep2 was pleasingly contained, a plausible vessel for an albeit blunt political allegory, the villain and crime were far-fetched (perhaps deliciously so, in the surrealist Black Mirror macabre sense) and/but approximately worth the suspension of disbelief, allowing the more totally indulgent narrative nonsenses and deadend teasers and nonsequitor japes to sit in the background adding vigour to the tipsy but largely coherent ensemble.
Ep3 was doubly infuriating for having previously tantilised us that the ship Sherlock was not Lost, and that the sprawl of high-budget tropes actually served the cause of an elegant cryptic crossword. Sleepless fury ensued. Sherlock is a galling insult to the intelligence of it cast and audience.
The bloated swaggering episode was doubly cloying for its superlative bravado in the face its vacuity, the detective equivalent of tinny over-amplified canned laughter, rolling puns with no punchline, like a winking emperor, knowing himself naked, but now revelling in the joke being on others. The pandora’s box of grave nonsense for grave nonsense’s own sake sprung open by Nolan and now spread abroad by a host of lower budget long-form imitators.
There is a rant I have pent up since the Leftovers, which gathered further bile behind the dam after MrRobot Series 2.0. It is an anger mixed with a grief mixed with a lingering fear for the future of mankind. For being an open-ended, hypertexted, character-driven-ish, streamable serial, Sherlock elbows in amongst longer siblings, but it is, nevertheless, a mature specimen of the long-form drama.
The long-form drama is worse than a mere soap opera for sophisticates, one doesn’t binge on Corrie with anything like the same self-congratulatory air. The sprawling vomit of narrative is an irresponsibility, a dizzying assault on language, an opiate of the worst kind, an introvenous sentimentality piping self-pitious escapist sensation into the darkened cells of the attention deficit generation whose twitter-augmented interaction with the narrative of all of life is rehearsed in the same wry interactivity via cliquing in-jokes which Moffat has made his millions by provoking. It is a deft exploit, it serves a felt need ~ Sherlock was always frothy, but was kept from mere froth where a coherent twist dignified the viewer with salient questions of memory, death and the real. Much as MrRobot achieved to an even richer end, political and psychological insight of a razor sharp piece urgent cultural criticism in Series 1.0, then utterly hollowed itself out along with the whole project, by franchising itself to the narrative equivalent of suburban sprawl, a grey, occasionally titillating morass of narrative semis and white picket plot twists.
Thursday, 23 February 2017
Rm16v1-2 Sister Phoebe. Grateful for the list of those who were there at the beginning of the early church, the taste of the new & the bold. But a depth, a maturity, also resonates from the list of thanks here, a steadiness of work coupled with the adventure of meaning & sacrifice. A church which knows how to give & to receive, to welcome & to thank, to serve & to preach & to rest & to thank & to be 'good friends' to one another. A church where men & women labour together in partnership. Gender remains a battleground in and outside the church, & I am here grateful for the unselfconscious picture of men & women labouring together well for the kingdom of God. I am grateful to be reminded of Sister Phoebe, a spiritual mother to us all, along with Priscilla & Mary & Junia. Grateful for the women who have run the race ahead of me, would I learn from their example.
Rm16v3-4 Oscar acceptance speech thanks and shout-outs and dedications and name-drops ~ how beautiful are those feat. on my new EP. Writing to the church in London, who would be on your list? Risk makes bands of brothers. Mission makes for meaningful mutually burdened co-labour. The urgent cooperative task of evangelisation is _the_ vital we-experience. I want to be the Hb12v1 cloud of witnesses, I want to be the runner, I want be the church in Rome, I want that 41 be such a crucial fellowship, for homegroup to be ernest kinsmen covenented to the task of risking necks.
Rm16v5-6 The church in their house. Timely today as prayers needed for the church in our house. How do we then House? How do we then Church, How do we then HouseChurch? God grant us wisdom, kindness, humility, joy. Teach us to forget self-help self-posturing inspirational sermon overthought silliness, & help us to breathe deep your reality, to drink from scripture simply & slowly, to look the real-life imperfect others in the face, and to let the Lord build the House, to know the Church as Christ's body.
Rm16v7-8 🙏✉ Beloved in the Lord, to my kith and kin, we should all write so. We should all, and all comms should be, a mode of submitting and commending. We should all write to commend. *Greet* as mutual pray-er and pray-ee well-seekers.. Prompted again to think broadly of the phenomenon of the Prayer Letter and how much more ordinary it could be.
Rm16v9-10 'fellow workers', 'dear friends', 'those who have proved their loyalty to Christ', 'those who belong to the [extended] family': all these different modes of relating, serving & belonging to one another packed into this quiet list of thanks. Let us labour, love & learn from one another, with such casual kaleidoscope beauty.
Rm16v11-12 'Household of Narcissus' (Commentaries presume this to be the same wicked Narcissus infamous secretary to Emperor Claudius) Amongst his household were Christians, known or unknown. So, greet those indentured to the Square Mile, which are in the Lord. Greet those ministering in the super-hard places, the thankless witness to the oligarchically lost. Bless and support those who are not in positions of honoured ministry, who doggedly invisibly conduct their faith on the very inside of the airless corridors of the political, legal and commercial elite.
'Labourers..who laboured hard' Faith without works is dead, but. What work? And how hard? Is there a pleasing muscularity to the doing of your life with the Lord? The breathless endorphin glow of a race hard run? Tryphena and Tryphosa translate dainty and luxurious. Dear snowflakes, this is what some of us once were.
Rm16v13-14 Rufus' Mum has the gift of spiritual mothering. Another women in the history of the early church to give thanks for and learn from, knowing the imprint of maternal wisdom & kindness has left it's imprint on Pauline theology. I pray I might learn from her, the discipline, gift & fruit of spiritual mothering.
Rm16v15-16 K.I.S.S.I.N.G. So french, no? A touchy subject. ESVSB outdoes it's prudish self: "a 'holy kiss' would not convey the same meaning today that it did in the first century, and in most cultures it would be seriously misunderstood. Such commands are best obeyed by substituting an action such as a handshake"
Contextualisation to match a culture must not be a trump card to keep us from reforming culture, from setting the tone, and practising humanness in its richest and most redemptive. At the very least within the context of the community of believers, at the very least within your family, at the very least in contexts where this is possible to move towards this meaningfully and slowly by degrees and in discussion.
Contextualisation at the cost of kissing naively believes in the amorality and inconsequence of a culture's practice of embodiement. If Christianity is merely a modification of where you go to when you die, don't risk anything in the meanwhile and don't waste time nuancing the poetic of the time you are passing, inoffense always opts for inaction. Advocates of a kiss-less Christianity entrench a lowest common denominator, a passive embodiement hollowed of substance and meaning. And this at the loss of the urgent application of a ministry which the New Testament thinks to render in the imperative 1Co16:20 ; 2Co13:12; 1Th5:26; 1Pt5:14 repeatedly.
We read these verses to, and we practice church amongst, a context of the touch-starved, the touch-averse, and the touch-wounded. We speak to a culture fluent in sexual touch but illiterate in platonic touch. We move amongst a morass of untouched untouchables. Dear brethren, greet one another with a holy kiss.
Rm16v17-18 'avoid them'. How my heart lept when I read this verse - a biblical excuse for avoiding people! Brilliant. There's lots of people I'd like to avoid. Except that the people Paul cautions us to avoid are those who engage me with 'smooth talk & flattery' - basically those that make me comfortable, rather than those that make uncomfortable. Och.
Rm16v19-20 "Your 'obedience' is known ... but" ~ A Pauline 'but'. What does it mean? What is beyond obedience? What is over against obedience? It is the jedi grasp of *wisdom vs innocence* that takes us beyond mere obedience, the Mt10v16 snake-dove comportment towards the socio-moral, the tricksy tensions and the shades grey. Part of me wonders if there is a Myers Briggs, carers-vs-truthtellers, priests-vs-kings, type split between doves-by-default and snakes-by-default. But I am by turns snarky and effete, by rickety bluster I achieve to be neither shrewd nor guileless, but rather merely obedient, merely, joylessly and only technically law-abiding. I pray this for you, the deepening of both these, both the sage prescience of laser sighted acuity to the straregically next-right-thing as well as the limitlessly gentle exploitable open-handed abandon to sooth as you hold a cruel world uncomfotably close. Please pray this for us, as we interface and boundary and become known to London, that we would be known for more than mere obedience.
Rm16v21-22 Ignatian contemplation is usually reserved for meditation and imaginative interaction with the gospels, but here at the end of Romans, where we're offered just a fraction of a glimpse into real personal relationships and interactions, I wonder if we can apply the practice here. Can I picture Timothy, Lucius, Jason, Sosipater & Tertius sat round a table together? What do they say to one another? How do they feel about one another? How do they attend to one another? How do they delegate work? What makes their relationship such that they can speak for one another. Invite the spirit into your imagination, what do you see between these friends? What might we learn?
Rm16v23,25 If nothing else, understand: You are called to a task that requires strength. God strengthens by the gospel. The gospel is not merely fire-proofing for the hereafter, it is bullet-proofing in the here and now, steel in your spine, nitro in your rocket fuel, the gospel is mechanically more-than, it is the titanium Sia is looking for. How? What makes you strong?
- Carbs, calcium, protein..? The gospel is wonder bread. Jn6v35
- That what doesn't kill you makes you..? The gospel produces strong endurance, which produces strong character. Rm5v3-4
- Mental and emotional propulsion? The gospel is the race marked out, the gospel is the cloud of witnesses, the gospel is the the joy set before us, the gospel is the prize. Ph3v14 Hb12v2
- Fall protection and PPE? The gospel is a helmet, the gospel keeps you from stumbling. Jd1v24 Eph6v17
But still, how? How does that work, and how does that help?
- I know a sin which so easily entangles, a self-interested embroilment in all that is less-than, an addiction to gravel, a compulsion to everything unsavoury. I know a God who intervenes, who cuts the appetite off at the pass, who woos me to a greater joy, who strengthens me by his gospel.
- I know the bleak blank discouragement of utter emptiness, the leaden cool of vast foreboding, the hollow clanking of an infinitely heavy day heaved through. I know a God who bears in, bears up and bears alongside, a warm God of infinite capacity tangibly close, who takes the tar and downs it, who releases me to bambi stagger with the new joy of new birth.
- I know the furious force of evil which wars against the hope for the good, which erodes instantly everything built slowly, which unravels everything we'd strained so hard to hold together, that strips dignity to the bone. I know a God whose healing is more-than, who can repair and will repair all things, all relationships, all projects, all bodies we shredded in our weakness.
God strengthens. Eph3v16.
Strengthen others. 1Th5v11, Hb10v24-25, 1Co14v26 1Sm16v23, 1Th3v2.
comes to a close
Christ, who rose
Saturday, 4 February 2017
Rm15v1-2 Our neighbour to one side of us is a hollow shell, a burnt-out wreck, a glowering monument to the devastation of a man whose extreme loneliness was muddled with flamable carelessness. So latterly our neighbour is the scorched earth of the London property market, land commodified and relentlessly resold, the prostitution of air, the auctionable abstraction of confected scarcity conspiring to squeeze the breath out of the town. Oh neighbours, there is so much to build up.
Rm15v3-4 There are many ways of engaging scripture, some better than others. It is, I think, generally unhelpful to be formulaic about how to read scripture, but it is always worth looking at the fruit of our scripture-engagment as a way of thinking about our praxis. v4 offers three little metrics: does your engagement with scripture make you (i) more hopeful, (ii) more patient, (iii) more encouraged?
Rm15v5-6 "The God of encouragement.." How does God encourage? How does one encourage? How do you give courage, how do you transfer current across the void, or fan a flame across a forest firebreak, or propel invisible momentum through Newton's cradle? What, indeed, is courage? What is the substance of this confident vigour beyond merely assured bravado? (Rowland Manthorpe asks similar last week bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08bb33j) For surely the world needs encouragement, over against anxiety disorders, and imposter syndrome, and the timidity of reedy Christian voices muttering a plaintive "Yes, We Can" into their decaf. 2Co1v4 be encouraged to encourage.
"...and endurance" Christianity is an endurance sport. It is the long haul. Eternity. How to keep on keeping on? As persistent widows weather what a weary world wears down by its withering bluster.. how much more so we whose perfectly just judge is unconsionably generous and whose deeply involved father gives good gifts, we whose sense of eternal reality is a strong tower, an ultimate shelter in the storm. We can be stoic without being callous, ebullient without being naive, anchored without being sunk by the tide's range. We are load-bearing beams with scriptural rebars, we are tonkable tankards.
"Grants yous harmony" I have the image of Christians as town bells, not muffled by caution, not cracked by experience, not warped by theory. We are tonkable instruments tooled and tuned for the task of broadcast. We are hung heavy, rung public, and we are melodic when struck hard. Being-church in harmony requires a God of encouragement and endurance, because there is so much discouragement which leads so quickly to dischord, so much burnout which leads to disharmony.
"So yous glorify God with one voice" Oh that church unity, might be unison, the exquisitely practised acapella of close harmony communication. Art brings order in the face of chaos, glorying in the statistical improbability of life's form, colour and motion. Language speaks of a God who speaks, a God who put meaning into the mouths of sign users. Christianity is a joy surprised by signal-to-noise, we call out to deep space, and it answers not in mere morse code, but polyphonic surround sound declaring a dancing God of many persons singing creation into being as with one voice.
Rm15v7-8 Sat with this verse a few days, feeling my own proclivity to wax lyrical the virtues of hospitality into my echo chamber, a slight distaste at the thinness, the hipster cliche of talking about welcome without substance. So considering some of the things welcome is not:
~Welcome vs Envy - I'm preparing to preach on Cain & Able this Sunday. Envy & competitiveness, which lead to destruction, are the first fruits of original sin. All my relationships, all my encounters, contain such a thread, & will overcome me, unless I receive the mind of Christ. Welcome is the inverse of competition, it tries to enlarge the other rather than cut them down. Welcome hence has to start with my own safety & security in God.
~Welcome vs Pretence - There is a truthfulness to welcome otherwise it is not welcome. How often I 'welcome' people into our home without taking off my mask or letting them take off theirs. This is not how Christ hosts us. This morning's Ps62v4 a reminder of the kind of doublemindedness that I use as a defense against others. In many cases I feel as though I really don't know how not to. Help me, God.
~Welcome vs Weariness - I am tired of your otherness, your truth. Dulled to your difference. Indifferent to your story. Overwhelmed. Let us Ps62v1 for our renewal, as Christ rests in the love of the Father.
Rm15v9-10 "in order that" Christ served the circumcised (v8) .. "in order that" the Gentiles would hope in Christ (v12). What are we? // In embodiment and imitation we are Christ // In being a community of covenant we are also the circumcised. // Thusly, we serve we in order to save the Gentiles?
- We-serve-we sounds self-serving? The trinity is a we-serving-a-we in-order-to save by a sweeping up of the other and the outsider into the we's excess. So Christian community likewise and reciprocally, fractally, and hedonistically abounds in hope and peace and in joy for joy (v13) which overflows out of that interactive we-serving we-experience to an _in-order-that_ derivative and ecstatic evangelism.
- Paul's bold, but observable, case for "in-order-that" causality gives impetus to deeply-do church (church qua equivalent circumcision) in order that the city might richly glorify God (city qua equivalent Gentiles). So we capaciously conspicuously do the doing of, by the serving of, church. Emphatically. // We are church for the sake of the non-church. // We are 41 for the sake of 39 and 43. // We are us for the sake of them. ~ We are a faith community. ~ More than that, we are a from-faith-to-faith community Rm1v17. Our we is so built on the basis of a faith hypothesis, that others observing can draw a faith conclusion. Our life of faith, as Christ's life on earth, extrapolates unseen promises, immanentises the eternal, and realises heaven. Being church is supernatural. In serving the church you participate in a plausibility structure for a redemptive, relational and personal cosmos, conclusively.
- Thus: Prototypical faith becomes catalytic faith. // Incubated faith becomes contagious faith. // A faith practised becomes a faith broadcast. // The promised fulfilled in our us, is a promise being made to the other. // This follows that. // Faith begets faith. // And it is all joy.
Rm15v11-12 The reference back to Isaiah serves as a point of meditation on this universal praise of the one God. Read Is11v1-16 as a meditation on the person of Christ and on what the telos of humanity looks like under Christ. We are following Genesis in the St Mark's evening services at the moment, last week remembering the fall as humanity's three-pronged alienation from God, from each other, & from our fellow creation. This Isaiah passage declares beautifully the reconciliation of all three to all: v10 humanity to God, v13 humanity to each other, v6-9 humanity to the rest of creation (& the rest of creation to itself). Perfect shalom with all humanity worshipping the shoot of Jesse.
Rm15v13-14 What is Hope? Hope is such a foreign commodity, a strained emotion, a poisoned chalice. Hope is a pinned-on, a held-out, a glimmered-of, and a given-up, a deffered, a pluperfect. We had hoped.. but now we are the savage bleak of soiled goods, the leftovers landscape of an entropic end game. In 2017, Hope parodies itself, the ghost limb of public consciousness. Wistful Christians, we have only sentimentality and superstition, Heaven's hereafter is a rabbit's paw clutched in fingers crossed. The shield of cynicism is a precious comfort as the scoffing chorus swells with lurid fury, nursing each other's indignance, basking in the warm scowl of mutual self-pity. // Against this, Hope. By hoping in the God of Hope. He who is the source and substance of Hope. Joy and Peace are the currency of Hope, the fruit of Hope, and the precondition for Hope's abounding. Abounding: in that Joy and Peace are effervescent and infectious, as a luminous Joy brings light to the room, so a deep Peace can absorb every wave of dischord - and by these, Hope abounds.
Rm15v15-16 Yet. v14 you are full of goodness. Yet. Thinking yesterday about the tussle between good & evil. This is the first 'yet', the acknowledgment that at least sometimes our image-bearing goodness is overcome by evil, this is our fallen nature. But this is the first 'yet', we know the second: Eph2v4 et al. But God. And Yet. But God...'made us alive together with Christ'
Rm15v19-20 'I've never heard a story more beautiful than the gospel'; the articulations of others in this new way of life that remind & restore faith. A simple prayer then, for all those I know who are intentionally telling the beautiful story in places where it has not been told.
Rm15v21-22 Claim a verse. Get busy. // By contrast with resigned zero-sum notions of time and geography which are convinced that all we can do is move the pieces around, vaguely taxing some to subsidise others in an exhausting closed loop, propping up an ailing system, painstakingly restoring some former golden age at great expense, battening down the hatches inside a protect-and-survive silo. // Overcoming 2017's isolationist turn wants for more than mere outrage at populist demagogues or mere compassion for refugees. // We, as Paul, believe in open heaven, help from the outside, reverse entropy. We open borders to let the healing flow outwards with a holy impatience and ecstatic restlessness. // More of you God.
Enjoy each other.
Assist each other.
Rm15v25-26 In the words of Dennis Moore, wealth redistribution is complicated.. Sixfigure-earning charity-execs caroling chugger squads to squeeze sporadic guilt-offered gleanings from card-carrying have's whilst a chronic Welfare State eats itself having exponentially multiplied both a rash of feral fatherless free-loading dependents on the one hand, and a smarmy callous embittered class of tax avoiders on the other. // Society is a body. Wealth moves through veins between organs. Individualism clogs the arteries, and a mindset of scarcity bloats bigger barn tumours stock piling inert wealth. Against this, compassionate remedial disaster-responsive charity is synthetic blood in a bag, piped in to starved limbs. // The church is a counter culture. The church is not merely charity done more energetically, it is not Christianised collections of tawdry surplus flogged to the less fortunate. Society is a body and the church is a replumbed arrangement, new pipes, new pumps, new sources. Christianity is social surgery to the root. // When the Bible says the believers had everything in common Acts4v32. How? What are the management mechanics of this? Really practically, what is the first step? Who is doing this well? How thung a thing does this alternative system of wealth need to be? Radical versions of this are usually recounted as utopian and precarious. How can we be different, resilient but nevertheless radical?
Rm15v29-30 "Fullness" Debates around half-empty/half-full will end. This Gospel is bigger than bigly, it's way too big for your boots. There is a fullness, a Lk6v38 pressed-down, shaken-together, running-over Ps23v5, an excess overflowing Ps45v1, a chock-full, unabridged and full-to-bursting Mk2v22, gushing torrent sort of fullness. Phil ist full? Would that it were more-than more so more often. Paul, however, is "sure" of this. And so surely he shall fully proclaim (v19) the fullness (v29) intensively and extensively. And to this end we should pray, he says, "with me .. for me". Pray with Phil for Phil. Pray "together". I picture the mechanics of prayer as an alignment of conduits, orchestrating the carriage of fullness from the source outwards, as if there were a waterwheel in Paul, turned by the release of water backed up in a reservoir, released as prayer's piping plugs in. So, Pray. Pray that a fuller Phil's falafel would fall frequently from his falafelloeffel for the fruit of many, Jn12v24.
Rm15v31-32 Paul asks for prayer for 1. Safety, 2. Meaningful service, 3. Joy 4. The refreshment of company. These four make a good starting point for prayer for anyone. For those met this weekend, For those near and far. Pray these for me? That our everyday lives may speak of the beauty of God.
Rm15v33 And also with you? CofE ism and schism. Marital strife and striving. Tangled tentacles stuck under your fourteen wheeler, we are odd shapes. We are gowns in towns not big enough for the boot of us. We are a jumbled jigsaw puzzle on fire with both barrels clocking square pegs to your round house, Ego I am the incompatible worst of human diversity, Ozymandias mauling I'm ruggedly over-against and always in a mutually exclusive club, I am the spaceship earth, an island self. The only peace is the tumbleweed of nuclear winter, the noise-cancelling bliss of podular encapsulation. I can't hear you when I'm vibing. God's peace is different.