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Reclaiming Marriage: What it is, what it isn’t, what it will finally be December 22, 2012

Posted by Phil Groom in Advent and Christmas, Church, Current Affairs, Life.
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Your Church Wedding: The Official C of E Wedding Planner

Want to get married in the Church of England? Sorry, straights only…

MARRIAGE: We’re hearing a lot about it these days as Her Majesty’s Government crosses swords and angry words with the religious right and the Church of England’s officialdom in particular, an ecclesiastical officialdom that appears to be increasingly out of touch with its own people, who are the Church. Whilst the government seeks to make marriage inclusive and available to all irrespective of gender and orientation, these self-appointed guardians of public morality seek to restrict it as an exclusive preserve of heterosexuals. Marriage, they declare, is sacrosanct: the government has no right to govern it. Marriage, they insist, transcends government: it is ordained by God, the union of man and woman, given by God to provide a stable family life in which children can be brought up.

To which God, to anyone prepared to listen, replies: balderdash and piffle! And does so in no uncertain terms as he begets a bastard to save the world: yes, Jesus, the bastard babe of Bethlehem, born to an unmarried woman in poverty, dependent upon gifts from strangers to survive as a refugee on the run from the authorities; and this child grows up, remains single, owns no property, befriends prostitutes and others outside mainstream society, ends up framed by the religious leaders of his day and gets murdered. That, my friends, is the true Christmas story: no fairy lights, no romance, no happily ever after as the hero carries his blushing bride over the threshold. Instead, God eschews marriage both as Father and as Son, and delivers a whole new twist to the meaning of “stable family life” — all our precious human conventions tossed aside as eternity breaks into time.

In engaging with humanity, God sets himself outside marriage, for marriage is a human institution, one of the ways that our society has developed — not so much ordained by as approved by God, God’s gift to humanity, like the Sabbath; and if we would but heed his voice, I suspect we’d hear Jesus saying, as he said of the Sabbath, “Marriage was made for people, not people for marriage.”

What, then, is marriage? To marry is, quite simply, to join together: it’s a term used in the construction industry, in carpentry, plumbing and engineering as items are bonded to one another. “I’ll marry up that joint,” says the carpenter. We don’t hear the religious right objecting to the use of the term in these contexts, only when it comes to human relationships. I wonder why?

And what is marriage about? There is an absurdity here: those who claim they want to defend the importance of marriage seem to want to reduce it to nothing more than a sexual union. Really? Is that what marriage is about? A licence to have sex? Of course it isn’t: marriage is about far more than what people get up to in their bedrooms; if you dare, ask any couple, married, cohabiting or partnered, what proportion of their time is spent having sex — I’ll wager few apart from newly-weds make it up to even 5% of their time, and for most it will be far less than that.

What, then, is marriage about? Above all, it’s about faithfulness, about commitment; about making that commitment under the terms of a covenant: a covenanted relationship. Faithfulness is what God calls people to, throughout the Bible. Faithfulness versus unfaithfulness is the constant, recurring theme of scripture: from the story of Adam & Eve’s betrayal of God’s trust in Eden to Judas’ betrayal of Jesus in Gethsemane; in the Commandments; in the Prophets as Israel is lambasted for her unfaithfulness to God; in the New Testament as the church is called to remain faithful to God — and it’s this relationship with God that the human institution of marriage but faintly reflects. Again and again, God cries out to his people to be faithful. Go read those ancient prophets and experience the sorrow in God’s heart at his people’s inconstancy!

What makes a marriage is faithfulness; what breaks a marriage is unfaithfulness — and if marriage is in danger, if marriage is in disrepute, it’s heterosexuals who have done the damage and made a mockery of it. Seems to me God is now saying, “Enough! You people have disregarded my call, have betrayed my trust: you’ve thrown it away; but now I will give that trust to all people who will commit to faithfulness regardless of gender” — a repeat of what happened to Israel when Christ came and threw the doors of the covenant wide open to the Gentiles: no longer an exclusive covenant but an inclusive one, for all who will put their trust in God. Just as God once used an outsider, Cyrus, to restore Israel, it seems — irony of ironies — that God is now using the Conservative Party and David Cameron in particular to restore marriage.

Those people to whom I entrusted this gift of marriage have not honoured it, says the Lord, therefore I will find a people who will honour it.

So, at least, it seems to me. Many will disagree; and no doubt numerous marriages of gay couples will fail just as they have done for so many straight couples. No matter: because the story is not over until our hero carries his bride over the threshold. I said that in this story that didn’t happen, didn’t I? I spoke too soon, for the final threshold is death; and our hero, Jesus, tenderly carries his bride — the Church, his broken, bleeding bride, ravaged by her own self-harm and self-interest — in his own broken, bleeding arms over that final threshold into a place where marriage is no more, where questions of gender are set aside, because all are one in Christ and love wins.

Marriage: here we have the Church being precious about it, trying to put a hedge around it, and all the time Christ calls us beyond it to something far deeper — an eternity of love. Marriages are not made by church or state; nor are they made in heaven: they are made in the heart, forged in the home. Church and state, heaven and hell, can only look on in wonder at a covenanted relationship of love that culminates in God and, for those who will, in that glorious consummation between Christ and the Church, the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.

And what a party that will be!


Acknowledgements

I’d like to acknowledge the following, whose recent thought-provoking posts have helped to shape and clarify my thinking in this area. Those named, however, bear no responsibility for anything here written; that responsibility is mine, and mine alone.


Reboot and Restore: Resurrection in Progress April 9, 2012

Posted by Phil Groom in Lent & Easter, Theological Reflection.
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1 comment so far

RESURRECTION: it’s the very core of the Christian faith, the belief — reaffirmed by Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, in his Easter sermon yesterday — that Jesus came back to life. Not that he recovered from a near-death experience, as some have attempted to claim, nor that someone else such as Judas Iscariot was crucified instead, as some Muslims have claimed, but that Jesus himself died, was buried, and was raised from the dead on the third day.

Nor is this a throwaway belief, an added extra for addled minds: it’s the essence, the kernel, the central tenet without which the entire edifice falls apart to become nothing more than a pick & mix set of Cameronesque common-decency values that “people of any faith, or no faith, can also share in, and admire” as outlined in our beloved Prime Minister’s Easter Message. Not that there’s anything wrong with such values, of course, but without the resurrection they’re values without power that those with power can ignore as they please, which is, of course, precisely what Mr Cameron does as he cites Jesus — “Do to others as you would have them do to you” — then presses on with his welfare and health service reforms regardless of their impact on those at the bottom of the social ladder, trampled underfoot by those eagerly clambering to get to the top as they live out that twisted version of Jesus’ words — Do unto others before they do unto you — that seems to resonate so much more with so much government policy in practice.

Enough of Mr Cameron and his ilk, however. For me, this Easter weekend, belief in the resurrection has taken on a whole new significance as I’ve been forced to think about what a reboot means:

Reboot and restore: my ankle

Reboot and restore: my left ankle

Every morning, I have to reboot my left ankle, literally, strapping this contraption in place to hold it together to give the broken bone a chance to restore itself whilst still allowing me to get about on it. The medics say it’s going to take at least six weeks, then I go back for an X-ray and reassessment and hopefully — hopefully — get to ditch the boot and the crutches.

But with Jesus we’re not talking about a slow recovery, nor even a rapid one: we’re talking death, total shutdown and complete reboot into a whole new way of being human: new bioware configuration, complete mindware rewrite-and-restore and a brand new Resurrection-OS install that takes him to another level of existence. He doesn’t come back as a ghost or a disembodied spirit or even as an undead zombie but as a living, breathing, eating, drinking human being throwing beach parties for his disciples, upgraded. Here’s how I expressed it recently in another post:

[Jesus] dies and — the ultimate coup — suckers Satan into doing the dirty work of killing him: God’s biggest ever fart, right in Satan’s face, and Satan doesn’t even realise until it’s just too damned late. Once again, God does what Satan can’t: he dies, and he dies horribly with all the wrath, agony and hatred of humanity poured into his soul, into his very self. Satan, the one who hates humanity, delivers the death blow that finally nails God into the human story with no way out — and nails the lid onto his own coffin, for ever. The deceiver, deceived; the usurper, usurped; and whilst Satan throws a party in his fantasy world where he thinks God is no more, Jesus throws a party in the underworld, kicks down the gates of hell, breaks the chains, heals the wounds and sets every captive free — then returns, reboots his wreck of a body with a brand new Resurrection-OS, and throws a beach party for his confused disciples.

This is Christianity at its best, at its most basic and its most glorious: completely down to earth with the God who undermines every rule of religious propriety, turns every dogma and social norm on its head, tears down the walls and raises the dead. God with us, God incarnate, God one of us; and it doesn’t stop there: once God has written himself into the story, the story itself is rewritten with the promise of the same Resurrection-OS reboot for the entire universe. Quantum theology: time and space explode, ripping the old order apart as the Jesus Event reverberates backwards, forwards and every which way in time, rewriting history and writing an even better future. New creation, new beginning, new everything. The old dividing line between spiritual and physical, between heaven and earth, becomes nothing but a line in the sand, washed away by the tide: everything becomes sacred, gender distinctions are wiped away, the first become last, the last become first and in God’s new creation there is neither slave nor free, rich nor poor. Jesus becomes the point at which creation begins and the anchor holding it in place.

It’s hard, very hard, to get your head around that when you’re on the outside looking in, when you’ve got friends and family battling all sorts of illnesses, mental and physical; when you see nations tearing themselves and their neighbours apart in bloody warfare, missile launches, terrorist atrocities, roadside bombs and security cordons; when you see natural disasters, earthquakes, avalanches, famine, fire and floods; when you see road and rail accidents, ships sinking, aircraft crashing and senseless shootings, bigotry, hatred, inequality, injustice, unfair trade, sweatshops and slave labour, child abuse, adult abuse, sickness and disease raging out of control… the list goes on and on… and even the church, the very community that should know better, just as wartorn and divided as the world around it…

But when you’re on the inside looking out, then it’s another story. You’ve still got the same problems, the same fears as you face the same world; you break and bleed just as easily as the next person; but inside you, you’ve got this kernel planted: the complete package downloaded. You won’t find it with a surgeon’s scalpel anymore than you’ll find a software download on a computer with a screwdriver. In the Bible, it’s called the Holy Spirit: God’s guarantee, the down payment, the deposit; and at times it’s like a fire in your bones, like lightning in your veins, an explosion in your heart waiting to happen; other times, it’s a quiet presence, a calm in the storm, a voice that whispers; and sometimes it’s an ache, a void, a gutting absence. But you know, you know that no matter how shitty it gets out there, no matter how much shittier it gets inside or outside, when the shutdown comes — and it will — there’s a reboot waiting.

That, my friends, is what the resurrection is about: death defeated in a transformation that puts every science fiction writer’s dreams of nanotech upgrades into the shade. Why? Because it’s already happened. And because it’s available, gratis, to anyone who wants it. Which brings me full circle back round to the Archbishop’s sermon:

How do we know that it is true? Not by some final knock-down would-be scientific proof, but by the way it works in us through the long story of a whole life and the longer story of the life of the community that believes it. We learn and assimilate its truth by the risk of living it; to those on the edge of it, looking respectfully and wistfully at what it might offer, we can only say, ‘you’ll learn nothing more by looking; at some point you have to decide whether you want to try to live with it and in it.’

Or as the people who run the national lottery say, you’ve got to be in it to win it. Only in this lottery, every ticket’s a winner.

That is what gives those values summarised in that statement of Jesus their power: when you’ve got the full download, when you know there’s a reboot waiting, you don’t need to trample everyone else underfoot to get to the top. You can give yourself away and you can give yourself away and you can give yourself away.

And I’m not talking about dying and going to heaven or any of that wishy washy nonsense. I’m talking about God’s kingdom come, here on earth, living it now: do to others as you’d have them do to you. Get the download and join the revolution.

If you dare.

Jeremiah’s Underpants and a Link Too Far: CCJ, Stephen Sizer and The Ugly Truth March 16, 2012

Posted by Phil Groom in Christianity, Current Affairs.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
55 comments
Jeremiah' s Underwear ... possibly

Jeremiah’ s Underwear … possibly.

JEREMIAH’S UNDERPANTS: it’s one of those wonderful Bible stories that for one reason or another doesn’t tend to make the Sunday School lessons, or even the sermon slots; but it did pop up earlier this week, at Evensong. I sat there chuckling at the absurdity of it whilst the rest of the congregation either didn’t get it or were too busy being solemn, as per Anglican tradition.

“Go buy yourself some new underpants,” said the Lord to Jeremiah. “Put them on but don’t wash them.” So off he went and bought some new undies and put them on. A while later — Jeremiah doesn’t tell us how long — the Lord spoke to him again: “Take off your new underpants and go, hide them under a rock down by the River Euphrates.” So off Jeremiah duly toddled and did as he was told: he was a good lad like that; and a while later — again, Jeremiah doesn’t tell us how long — the Lord spoke to him again: “Go back, get your underpants from under the rock.” So off he went and after a bit of scrabbling around, he found the spot, dug them up and — shock, horror! — they were ruined! Yes, ruined.

The story doesn’t tell us how bad the smell got, what Jeremiah wore whilst his underwear were rotting down by the riverside, or whether he put them back on again, and I suspect that without all those details he’d have been hard pressed to find a publisher today; but Jeremiah was no fool: it was self-publishing all the way for him, and no copyright restrictions — he just wanted his story out there.

And the story was wroth: God’s wrath against Israel, who, God declared, were just like Jeremiah’s filthy underpants, rotten, smelly and useless. Oh, for a Euphrates youtube: I leave it to your imagination and any budding film producers out there…

IN TODAY’S WORLD, methinks, Jeremiah would have been declared anti-semitic and reported to the police: how dare he, how dare anyone, liken Israel to a pair of filthy underpants? And in truth, that’s the way ancient Israel all too often treated its prophets, ostracising them, abusing them, and, in Jeremiah’s case, throwing him into a well and leaving him to die.

So who dares speak up about Israel’s misdemeanours today? One such person is Stephen Sizer, an Anglican cleric and writer who blogs at stephensizer.blogspot.com and speaks out freely against Israel’s contemporary apartheid against the Palestinians. I’m happy to say that I know nothing about Stephen’s underpants, but I do know that he tends to use facebook rather like Jeremiah used the Euphrates: somewhere to deposit things that come to his attention, especially links pertaining to Israeli-Palestinian relations.

Stephen is not alone in using facebook like that, of course: I do it all the time with links and snippets about the Christian book trade; but the fact that I post a link does not imply that I endorse everything that you might find at the other end of that link; indeed, if linking carried that implication, none of us would link to anything and the internet would implode, no longer a net at all, just gazillions of navel-gazing orphaned pages. Some people play it safe anyway with disclaimers: those are not my underwear out there, or words to that effect.

CCJ Statement About Antisemitic Website, 13/03/2012

CCJ Statement About Antisemitic Website, 13/03/2012

Other people, unfortunately, just don’t get it: like the congregation at Evensong listening to what has to be one of the Bible’s most hilarious stories and failing to laugh, all they seem able to do is make like the end of the world is nigh. This week Stephen has fallen foul of one such group, the otherwise excellent CCJ, the Council of Christians and Jews, specialists in Christian-Jewish relations — of which I happen to be a member — and it’s no joke: they’ve lodged a complaint with his bishop and with the police, accusing him of promoting racial hatred: CCJ Statement About Antisemitic Website.

Their problem: Stephen posted a link to an article about Israeli threats to Iran on a website called ‘The Ugly Truth’, a site which some members of CCJ have described “obscenely anti-semitic”, and Stephen, apparently, did not remove his link to the article fast enough for them:

We have paid particular attention to a link posted by Mr Sizer on his Facebook page to ‘The Ugly Truth’, an antisemitic website. We consider this to be wholly unacceptable. We cannot accept it was an accident, because Mr Sizer was alerted to the antisemitic nature of the website in November and again in December, but only removed the link in January when contacted by the Jewish Chronicle.

Stephen’s response to that, via facebook, of course:

The reality is I add many Facebook links daily and get criticised weekly. I did not look at the website till January and only then appreciated its anti-semitic content. I removed the link as soon as I found it. Its [sic] not easy to find a link from months ago on FB. The article itself that I linked to was about Israeli threats to Iran. No one has actually criticised the article itself.

… which to me, as another heavy facebook user, makes perfect sense; and I wonder if that is part of CCJ’s problem: they simply don’t get social media? Be that as it may, however, as a member of CCJ, I find the way they have elected to handle this situation extremely disappointing on two particular fronts:

First of all, the announcement itself seems disingenuous at best: entitled “CCJ Statement About Antisemitic Website” it is, in fact, nothing of the sort: it is rather a direct, personal attack on Stephen Sizer. Far better, I suggest, to thank Stephen for drawing attention to the site and then go, with even greater determination, after the people who run The Ugly Truth website.

Next, one thing that I’ve always admired about CCJ, one of the things that makes me proud to be a member, is its commitment to dialogue: making dialogue make a difference is one of CCJ’s straplines, used on almost every poster we produce at CCJ Hillingdon, where I’m the webmaster. What, I wonder, has happened to the dialogue process in this instance? Stephen removed the link as requested; and at CCJ CEO David Gifford’s invitation he met with some Jewish leaders where, in Stephen’s words, “we had a heart to heart about what had happened, but nothing materialised except this press release.” Why, I ask, some two months on, have CCJ now chosen to pursue the matter in this way rather than engage in further dialogue with Stephen, or indeed with CCJ’s wider membership?

I have written to David Gifford to this effect, cc’d to the Bishop of Guildford and Surrey police, and now await their response. In the meantime, beloved readers, let’s talk it through…

UPDATE 15/3/2012

A brief response from CCJ on twitter, over a series of 4 tweets:

All CCJ has done, in its founding role to combat antiSemitism, is, on receipt of complaints about Mr Sizer’s actions… … to have expressed grave concern to his bishop and drawn the attention of the police to the matter. ….It is not within our remit or competence to decide whether or not the accusation of incitement to race hatred is sustainable or not… … – which is why we have referred it.

UPDATE 23/3/2012

A brief response from David Gifford, received today:

Dear Phil

Many tx for this. I appreciate you taking the time and trouble to write and have noted your comments, which I fully understand

Kind regards

David

ELSEWHERE… (most recent first)

DISCLAIMER

Those are not my underpants out there, OK? The fact that I’m expressing solidarity with Stephen Sizer over this matter does not imply that I agree with everything he says, my links to facebook do not imply that I approve of everything on facebook, and my use of WordPress does not imply that I universally applaud everything that’s posted on WordPress hosted blogs. So don’t get your knickers in a twist, and if you do, try a hot iron — but take them off first. Thank you.

I saw camels dancing on Satan’s grave March 8, 2012

Posted by Phil Groom in Lent & Easter, Life, Theological Reflection.
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7 comments

And lo, I looked, and I saw camels dancing on Satan’s grave. And I spoke to the angel standing beside me, and I asked, “Who are these camels and why are they dancing?” And he replied, “When camels dance, the universe roars with laughter: for behold, these camels, they’ve got soul, and Satan, he’s got no soul, therefore these camels dance and the universe rejoices. Blessed shall be the ox who gets the yoke.”

— Recently discovered fragment of an early MSS of the Book of Revelation

Have you ever seen camels dancing? No? Then believe me, my friend, you haven’t lived: dancing camels are an absolute must-see phenomenon — and as this ancient writer discovered, they rock the universe with laughter. Total hilarity. Especially when they’re dancing on Satan’s grave.

Yes, that Satan: the ancient enemy of humanity, the betrayer, the deceiver, the usurper, the Father of Lies, the Whisperer of Dark Thoughts, and any other unpleasant and nefarious title that you can think of. The one who wants you, above all else, to believe that he does not exist — because once he’s won that little battle, he can get away with anything, from murder to rape to theft, even to the point of you taking your own life without you realising that yours wasn’t the hand that took it. Satan sucks, and given his way, he’ll suck you dry, drink your soul and leave you feeling like an empty husk wandering the empty pathways of despair.

Why? Because he exists; because you exist; and because God doesn’t. He hates that, because he wants to be all in all and he can’t be. Oh, there was a time when he was nearly there: top dog amongst the angels; but top dog wasn’t good enough for him: he wanted to be top god. But God — and how I love those two words, But God — put a stop to those satanic ambitions, simply by creating you. Yes, you: the you reading this and wondering what on earth that nutjob Phil Groom is on about this time.

Prepare to be amazed: he’s on about you. Because you, like the dancing camels, have got soul. Which means you can dance too, with or without the camels, and all that damned Satan can do is rot in his grave and fade away. True, he’s a pain in the butt right now: lop off a chicken’s head and it’ll run around flapping and spurting blood and making a right mess for a minute or two before it drops; and Satan’s one big headless chicken who’s gonna be running around for a while yet. But up there in the future, the camels are dancing on his grave: it’s just a question of laughing in the meantime, along with more than a bit of weeping, sure; but God’s promise is that damned devil is done for, finito, for ever.

How? One word: Jesus. In Jesus, God steps out of the realm of the Almighty into what might be and makes all things possible. The non-existent God steps into human space-time and takes on existence: the author writes himself into the story, the artist paints himself into the picture, in a way that Satan simply cannot copy. Oh, Satan and his pathetic bunch of minions can possess, certainly; and as we all know, possession is nine tenths of the law. But as anyone who has ever faced a Compulsory Purchase Order knows only too well, that final tenth has more power than all the other nine put together — and that’s all God needs, all God has ever asked for and all Jesus needs to send Satan packing into that empty no man’s land where the camels dance on his grave.

Proof? You want proof? Simple: God farts and Satan flees. It’s right there in the Bible: Jesus went into the wilderness, where he farted for forty days and nights; and when the forty days were over, Satan fled. Ask Martin Luther: fart and the devil flees. The Christian God is a God who farts, and this — one of the most profound parts of the Christian message — terrifies Satan, because it’s something he can never do: he’s full of wind, but he can never fart. Try to imagine what that must be like: for ever flatulent but unable to fart. The best he can do is fart by proxy when he or one of his minions manage to possess a human being that they’ve sucker-punched into submission; but he can never fart himself. But God can: because God didn’t simply take over someone else’s human body, he grew his own and suffered all the indignities that went with it — alongside all the joys and pleasures. Seriously, you don’t think Jesus turning water not merely into wine but into the best possible wine was a one-off, do you? Practice makes perfect: Jesus knew his wine because he enjoyed the stuff, and if it had been a wedding today you can be sure that at least one of those water jars would have become Guinness, as well as maybe a flagon of champagne. Go ask his mum: she understood.

Our God farts. He also sings, dances, drinks, laughs, weeps, bleeds, parties, loves camels, tells stories, tells the bigots to bog off and makes friends with prostitutes. This is life in all its fullness. This is Jesus, God with us, one of us and loved and hated in equal measure by those who meet him.

He also dies and — the ultimate coup — suckers Satan into doing the dirty work of killing him: God’s biggest ever fart, right in Satan’s face, and Satan doesn’t even realise until it’s just too damned late. Once again, God does what Satan can’t: he dies, and he dies horribly with all the wrath, agony and hatred of humanity poured into his soul, into his very self. Satan, the one who hates humanity, delivers the death blow that finally nails God into the human story with no way out — and nails the lid onto his own coffin, for ever. The deceiver, deceived; the usurper, usurped; and whilst Satan throws a party in his fantasy world where he thinks God is no more, Jesus throws a party in the underworld, kicks down the gates of hell, breaks the chains, heals the wounds and sets every captive free — then returns, reboots his wreck of a body with a brand new Resurrection-OS, and throws a beach party for his confused disciples.

This is Christianity at its best, at its most basic and its most glorious: completely down to earth with the God who undermines every rule of religious propriety, turns every dogma and social norm on its head, tears down the walls and raises the dead. God with us, God incarnate, God one of us; and it doesn’t stop there: once God has written himself into the story, the story itself is rewritten with the promise of the same Resurrection-OS reboot for the entire universe. Quantum theology: time and space explode, ripping the old order apart as the Jesus Event reverberates backwards, forwards and every which way in time, rewriting history and writing an even better future. New creation, new beginning, new everything. The old dividing line between spiritual and physical, between heaven and earth, becomes nothing but a line in the sand, washed away by the tide: everything becomes sacred, gender distinctions are wiped away, the first become last, the last become first and in God’s new creation there is neither slave nor free, rich nor poor. Jesus becomes the point at which creation begins and the anchor holding it in place.

Following Jesus is not about some airy fairy pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die afterlife where we’ll all be floating around on clouds playing harps or cellos or whatever musical instrument takes your fancy with occasional breaks to laugh at the torments of the damned. Following Jesus is about life on earth now, in a world where Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Your Kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Christianity is firmly rooted in reality and reality is rooted in Jesus who makes all things possible; and the future hope Jesus holds out to his disciples is reality rebooted.

Earlier I said you’ve got soul; I was wrong: you are soul. Be careful how you say that, but don’t be fooled by anyone who tries to tell you you’ve got an immortal soul that’s going to heaven or hell or some place in between; you haven’t. You are soul, body/spirit/mind synched together in imperfect harmony, but in God’s reboot the imperfections get the boot, your hard drive gets defragged and you get the upgrade that Apple, Microsoft and all the other computer geeks out there can’t even dream of, even in their wildest flights of imagination. Doesn’t matter if the original hardware’s rotted away, been incinerated or recycled because Jesus saves and he backs up too. Which means there will be cats and dogs in heaven because heaven will be here on earth; and for those with eyes to see, it’s already arrived.

God farts, Satan flees, camels dance, heaven, earth and humanity are rebooted and in the words of the hymn writer, Jesus sets our souls ablaze: be careful how you sing that; and I don’t know what was in those mushrooms I ate last night, but the shop assistant told me they were a special purchase from Patmos: blessed shall be the ox who gets the yoke.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

‘See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.’

Revelation 21:1-4


Acknowledgements: Post inspired by my good friend @narky, who apparently believes there won’t be cats and dogs in heaven; and I owe the ox who gets the yoke gag to Kruppe, a character in Steven Erikson’s ‘Tales of the Malazan Book of the Fallen’ … everything else, apart from the bits I made up, is true.

Weekend Knockabout: Sing a New Song: I am a malcontent, I am an aggressor October 1, 2011

Posted by Phil Groom in Knockabout.
Tags: , , , , , ,
2 comments

I DEDICATE THIS SONG to all my friends in the Christian retail trade. If you, gentle reader, don’t understand it, don’t worry about it: it’s an inside joke and it really is terribly unfair of me to make a song out of it — just be grateful I’m not making a dance out of it too, given the recent relaunch of Strictly. Visit my Christian Bookshops blog if curiosity gets the better of you. Otherwise, just make up a tune, singalong, and enjoy, oh yeah.

Oh, but one more thing, the question every Christian songwriter must ask themselves: is it Spirit inspired? All I know for sure is that I dreamt it up whilst I was putting the laundry out; and being a washed-in-the-blood-of-the-lamb, hung-out-to-dry-in-the-wind-of-the-spirit kinda guy, what more can I say? Now let’s rock, baby!!

I am a malcontent,
I am an aggressor,
Come on and clap your hands,
Come on and sing with me:
I’m in the WC*
Bad books, bad books, oh yeah!

How can I be silent
When there’s a fire in my bones?
When I see injustice
And Christian hearts like stones?**

I see my former colleagues struggling
to make their budgets work,
I see a big established company
rejoice for all they’re worth,
I think that things could be done better
and wear my heart upon my shirt.

So I dared to ask a question,
what their RRPs are for,
but their boss said that was naughty,
I really shouldn’t ask the score.***

I am a malcontent,
I am an aggressor,
Come on and clap your hands,
Come on and sing with me:
I’m in the WC*
Bad books, bad books, oh yeah!

I am a malcontent,
I am an aggressor,
I just love finding fault
If I can find a flaw…
(repeat to fade…)

*WC = Worship Central. Seriously: go there.
**They’re not really, it’s just one guy throwing a temper tantrum.
***OK, OK: what he really said was I should’ve asked him personally rather than post an opinion piece on my blog. But I’m a blogger, y’know? I prefer conversations out in the open.

Changing my socks January 12, 2011

Posted by Phil Groom in Frivolity, Life, Watching and Waiting.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
13 comments

SOMETIMES DRASTIC MEASURES ARE CALLED FOR. This is one of those times: I am changing my socks. Yesterday I tweeted:

and because I am such a hyperconnected person, oh yes, that tweet went via friendfeed to facebook, where a friend suggested that I should change my socks next time I take a shower. This horrified me. Quietly disregarding the fact that I don’t shower, that it’s at least a year since I last showered, I was utterly flabberbegibbergasted. Consider the implications: it would seem that my friend takes his socks off when he showers.

I invite you, gentle reader, to think this through: the removal of socks exposes the feet. Yes, you’ve got it: naked feet! Feet exposed to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune with no protection from the moneymakers and swindling bankers who want to take those ten little piggies to the stock market and rip off their toenails and — well, you get the picture. Putting it bluntly, it’s unnatural.

I ask you, lovelies: how could anyone shower, bathe, get into bed or — horror of horrors — walk down the street with naked feet? Imagine if you stepped in some dog poop and then got into bed. Dearly beloved readers, will you stand with me on this matter of principle? I put it to you that socks should not be changed, exposing feet and tootsies to the air and other unmentionable dangers, except as an absolute last resort.

But today I am in such a state of shock that needs must and my socks will be changed! I will peel them from my feet, then gently, oh so gently — as if the very hands of Jesus were doing the job, as he is wont to do — wash those feet and put on clean socks. Do not be afraid: the sockless interval will last no more than 10 minutes.

Whence my state of shock, you ask, as if the very idea of showering with naked feet were not bad enough? Herein, dear hearts: my good friend Ali Quant — who routinely walks barefoot all over me in Scrabble — has become a porn star! Yes, a porn star: described by someone in a Guardian comment thread as “misery porn”.

There is no choice: I am changing my socks!!

I have changed my socks

I have changed my socks

Where next?

Breaking News: UK Government to Cut Time by One Third November 17, 2010

Posted by Phil Groom in Knockabout, Life.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
6 comments

IN ANOTHER DAZZLING DISPLAY OF BRILLIANCE the UK Government has announced plans for a new round of cuts, this time to time itself. To help reduce the economic deficit, hours will be reduced by one third to only 40 minutes. In order to ensure that most people don’t realise that they’re being short-changed, minutes will also be reduced by one third to only 40 seconds, whilst — by an amazing feat of quantum mechanics — seconds will be lengthened by one half.

At a Press Conference held earlier today, Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister, explained how the new time system will be brought into play:

This is something that we as Liberal Democrats have long anticipated. It’s a sophisticated calculation but can actually be explained quite simply: if you take a second and add another half-second you end up with a time span that’s one third longer than the original. You then apply the temporal dilation principle to squeeze the extended second into the original temporal space and that space expands to accommodate it in much the same way that we Liberal Democrats keep expanding our manifesto to give the Tories everything they want without actually compromising any of our core commitments. It’s a very elegant solution which means that I get to remain as Deputy Prime Minister for twice as long as the Coalition itself exists whilst David triples his power base and eventually takes up residence in Buckingham Palace leaving me to run the country. We can, as David has said, be immensely proud of how far we have come — and with time even shorter for you but longer for me, we’ll be going even further.

Speaking more specifically about the cuts, George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer, said:

By shortening hours to only 40 minutes, more people will be able to work more hours whilst still taking home the same pay. This will reduce unemployment at the same time as reducing the need for employers to give their workers breaks. Paying people the same for working shorter days will be offset by devaluing the pound by 50%, which means people will be able to buy less for the same money and will thus be incentivised to work harder, faster and longer in order to earn more. To offset the currency devaluation the British economy will be floated on the international stock exchange. We expect China to make a successful bid and should therefore be able to introduce greater levels of poverty and slave labour within a very short time frame, shortened even further by the shortened hours. I think we can call that a result, don’t you?

Ian Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, elaborated:

This is a very far-reaching policy that will impact upon all of our lives to ensure that the rich continue to get richer whilst the poor get poorer until they are so poor that they simply vanish from the face of the earth, apart from a few who will still be needed for cleaning duties. We have worked out that people will work, on average, twice as fast as they do now in order to achieve the same amount in a reduced time span. This will lead to increased stress levels, heart attacks and premature death which will represent considerable savings on the pensions bill. At the same time we expect the elderly to degenerate faster as they simply won’t know what’s hit them: you get to a certain age and time flies by anyway; this system will make time fly even faster and they’ll age faster without noticing. Within half their anticipated pensionable lifespan most of them will be dead. The ramifications are enormous, almost as big as my ego, and I am therefore delighted to be changing my name — officially — to Iain Bunkum Smith. If anyone argues with me I’ll tell them they’re speaking absolute bunkum and that will be the end of it, especially if they’re a BBC Today Programme presenter attempting to ask searching questions. If you’re my friend you can call me IBS.

George Osborne continued:

IBS is quite right. Even eternity will be affected because it will arrive sooner than expected for most people, especially asylum seekers, the homeless, poor, weak, vulnerable, anyone on benefits and anyone who is mentally ill or whom we, for whatever arbitrary reason, simply do not like. We have further ascertained that due to the quantum mechanics involved even God cannot escape: his job title will be reduced by one third. We gave him the choice of becoming known as Od or Go and he explained that since most people think he’s pretty odd anyway, he’d prefer to go for Go — which also happens to be my initials. Unfortunately because of the time dilation effect we don’t have time for any questions but you may now worship at my feet and a mandatory collection will be taken as we all sing a rousing hymn.

Now go read about the impact this government’s cuts are having in real life:

Feeling the Call October 1, 2010

Posted by Phil Groom in Christianity, Watching and Waiting.
Tags: , , , , , ,
8 comments

A FRIEND told me she thinks she may be feeling the call to Anglican ministry. Being the bravehearted type, she asked me what I thought she should write to her vicar about it. Always ready to help a friend in need, I suggested:

Dear Vicar,

I think God has finally lost the plot and I’m hoping you’ll agree.

You see, I think God may be calling me to Anglican ministry. I mean, how bloody stupid is that? WTF does God think she’s doing, calling ME?? Is she bonkers? I know she called you but that was when she’d overdosed on coffee or something, wasn’t it?

So can you do me a favour, please, and pray about this until SHE CHANGES HER FRIGGIN’ MIND!! I know God changes her mind sometimes coz she changed her mind about destroying Nineveh, and asking me to be a vicar, well don’t you think that’s a bit worse than destroying Nineveh? Wouldn’t it make more sense to get swallowed by a FREAKIN’ WHALE than to become a vicar?

Lots of love,

Your No. 1 fan,

Lizzie

My theory is simple: the best test of a vocation is to run away from it. If you end up getting swallowed by a whale and puked up on a beach not far from where you were running away from, you can be 99% certain God was calling you. OK, so you end up with seaweed in your hair, you stink of rotting fish and your skin’s maybe a bit rough from the stomach acid, but that just adds to the authenticity when you get there. I mean, if you’re going to preach hellfire & damnation, you might as well look the part, and that’s what vicaring’s all about, isn’t it? Why else do they all wear those fancy frocks if it’s not to hide the whale stains and holes in their socks?

But for some reason she didn’t send it. Can’t work out why. What do you reckon?

PS: If you’re feeling called by God and would rather avoid the being-swallowed-by-a-whale-and-puked-up-on-a-beach routine, these sermons might help you find your way…

Acceptance September 23, 2010

Posted by Phil Groom in Christianity, Church, Life, Mental Health.
Tags: , , , , ,
16 comments

THIS POST is for all my friends in the madosphere, those amazing people blogging, facebooking and tweeting their way through the traumas of mental illness: you know who you are and I salute you. But mostly it’s for Karita, whose recent posts DistasteStuntedHonesty and Lies – Part the Second and Honesty and Lies have set me thinking.

It’s a strange business, the way our society treats people with mental health problems, almost like lepers … perhaps even worse than lepers: leprosy is a disease that you can identify, pin down to a particular bacterium, and treat. But mental illnesses come in all sorts of guises and all too often, it seems, even health professionals don’t know how to deal with them and people struggling with mental illness find themselves sidelined or stigmatised.

Part of it comes down to fear, of course: fear of what may be lurking inside our own minds, sometimes hidden just below the surface, sometimes buried deeper within. Fear of looking into the abyss of the human mind and having to face up to the fact that when push comes to shove, we’re all the same. Then there’s pride: the foolish belief that somehow I am above these problems, that mental illness is a sign of weakness when in fact it’s simply part of being human, no more a sign of personal weakness or failure than cancer is a sign of physical weakness or failure. I think A Broader Mark summed things up well when she left this comment here the other day:

I’m beginning to suspect it’s their own pain that people can’t accept. Maybe they avoid looking at the pain of others because it reminds them of their own pain – forces them to see that they’re just as human as the next guy. Everyone hurts (almost always more than other people know, I suspect); it’s the human condition – there ain’t no escaping it.

It seems to be even worse in some Christian circles: many Christians seem to think that they shouldn’t be mentally ill, shouldn’t suffer from depression or anxiety or personality disorders or any of the other 1001 or more manifestations of mental illness. They’ve been taught to believe that Jesus will make all their problems go away and if their problems don’t go away then it must be their fault somehow because if they really, truly trusted in Jesus then their problems would be solved. Sing another sycophantic “God is Great” happy song and all will be well. Forgive my bluntness, but that’s complete bullshit. In fact, it’s worse than bullshit: at least with bullshit you can use it as fertiliser — but with complete cockamamy beliefs like that, there’s nothing useful you can do at all: you just have to throw them out of the window and hope there’s no one standing underneath…

Simple fact: Christians are screwed up human beings the same as everyone else. What Jesus offers to those who can or will accept it is acceptance itself and a bit of light in the darkness. What he doesn’t do is turn the light off or walk away or snuff out a flickering candle or break off a broken reed. Instead, he sits down beside the flickering and broken ones and gently puts an arm around their shoulders and says, lean on me. Then, together, with him wearing his crown of thorns that people like me awarded him for being our champion, they weep. Maybe they struggle to their feet and stagger a few steps together … he has bloody, broken feet because people like me smashed nails through them when he wouldn’t make like the God we wanted him to be, so it’s one hell of a journey…

But the important thing is, it’s a journey; and we’re all in it together. A broken god come to the rescue of a broken humanity. An impossible journey. But one that I happen to think is worth taking — and which I count it a privilege to share with anyone who has travelled this far with me. And if you, dear reader, aren’t religiously inclined, don’t worry about it: the god I believe in isn’t religious either and doesn’t give a fig about what you believe about him — what counts is he believes in you; and he does, my friend, he does…

Did I mention his hands are broken too?

Meeting the Mentalists August 25, 2010

Posted by Phil Groom in Life, Mental Health.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
28 comments

I’m sane, apparently. Well, I’m not on any sort of meds for a mental disorder, and so far I’ve always got on the train rather than thrown myself under it, although the thought does pass through my mind fairly frequently. And I don’t do self-harm either, though I’ve often wanted to take hold of a sharp knife and carve parts of my body away, but when it comes down to it, I don’t like pain: I’m just plain chicken, I guess.

But why am I telling you this? Because on Saturday I had the awesome privilege of meeting a group of my online friends from the madosphere: a group of people who blog, tweet and facebook their way through the traumas of mental health issues; and I fitted right in.

We met up at Baker Street tube station: @serial_insomnia, @magicplum@FindingMelissa and a few others, then went a-wandering in search of our fellow crazies in Regents Park, and we found them sitting in a circle under a tree. They opened up the circle for us and we sat looking at each other across the vast distances of our lives. Some talked, some listened, some did both and I guess some probably did neither but were simply glad to be, to be in a group of people who didn’t mind whether or not they were bipolar, clinically depressed or self-harmers or any combination of several dozen other disorders, who wouldn’t condemn them for having suicidal thoughts and wild mood swings or for suffering social anxiety or for having multiple personalities and imaginary friends or whatever.

Where was God in all this? Right there in the midst of us, weeping for all the traumas and all the might have beens and shouldn’t have beens and ought to have beens … screaming at the madness of humanity’s inhumanity and insanities … but not condemning, never that: only forgiving where forgiveness was wanted and offering peace and leaving space where space was needed. Or maybe that’s just me with my own imaginary friend? Why is it OK to have an invisible friend called Jesus but not other invisible friends? Why does our society treat people with mental illnesses like lepers?

And what about self-harm? Why does the church at large struggle to understand or relate to self-harmers? We have a God who’s big on self-harm: let’s face it, you can’t get more self-harming than God, can you? You’re all alone in the universe: you are the universe; and one day you have this crazy idea of creating Other … that’s just asking for trouble, surely? You know it’s going to end in tears and pain and bloodshed — most of it your own — and you go ahead and do it anyway, you give yourself away and you give yourself away and eventually you kill yourself by walking into a situation where there’s no escape and you get crucified. That’s self-harm big time and somehow it becomes humanity’s only hope and you throw everything, absolutely everything you’ve got, into this crazy plan and then entrust it to the likes of me to see it through. Crazy God: 100% certifiable.

The sitting-in-a-circle routine wasn’t really my scene, but I’m happy to say some of us managed to break away and find a pub whilst some others went boating then found the pub and we were all reunited in a more civilised atmosphere of Guinness, mutual empathy and connectedness. Unfortunately I had to leave before the evening was over — another party was calling — but my abiding memory is of meeting a group of incredibly courageous, lovely and likeable people who were (and are) brave enough to contend with their problems despite the failings and inadequacies of the NHS’s provision.

Anyway, that’s just some of the stuff that my brain has distilled out of the experience. If it gels with anyone else’s thoughts, great; but if not, no worries. To my amazing madosphere friends: I salute you!

A few reports elsewhere:

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