Thursday, 25 February 2010

President Obama

I must admit that I am no expert in American politics. But I was interested in the President's attempt to bring in a just and equitable health-care system. Now it seems that his plans are in disarray and that if he fails here his future will be bleak and he could become a lame-duck president. That is the view of A Kaletsky in today's Times p.30
One thing has shocked me as I have trawled the internet and watched videos is the bitterness of American political life. I watched today a debate on CNN concerned with a Baptist Pastor's sermon, in which he says he hates Obama and all he stands for and that he hopes he lands in Hell. I was stunned as I viewed such un-Christian rhetoric. Obama seems to be facing a torrent of venom unheard of in Europe.
I think the reason for this is quite simple. In England no Christian I know sincerely believes that his party is the party of God. A Christian voter here has a simple choice; which party will do the least damage to cause of Christ? It is a matter of the least of three evils. This is the same I believe all over Europe.
In America many Christians, perhaps the majority, believe that to be a Christian is to be a republican. Even the least of social reforms put forward by the Democrats is labelled as rank socialism or communism. Take the state of American health-care. American spends up 17% of it GDP on health issues. This is way above the proportion spent on health in the major industrialised countries, and there is no doubt that the best in
America is the envy of the rest of the world. Yet the picture is very patchy. For all the enormous amounts spent the results are not impressive. The average expectation of life is below that of many other developed nations and the level infant mortality, which is the true index of a nation's health, is the highest among industrialised nations, higher than that of poverty-stricken Cuba. The reason for this is simple; many tens of millions of Americans have no health insurance and cannot access the best of modern treatments. This what Obama is trying to redress, rather unsuccessfully it seems.
Another reason for the hatred felt towards Obama is his laissez-faire attitude towards abortion. He has done nothing to ban it. OK this is a serious moral problem. But when compared to his predecessor, George W Bush, his sins and misdemeanours, pale somewhat. He has not led his country, and the UK, into a disastrous war against Iraq, where even by conservative estimates, at least a 100, 000 Iraqis have died, as well as thousands of allied soldiers. Also the invasion has had a disastrous effect on the Iraqi Christian population. Before the war there were about 1.5 million in Iraq. That figure has now dropped to about 400.000. Most have fled to Syria, having lost their homes and most of their possessions.  The secular despotism of Saddam, one that tolerated Christianity, has been supplanted by an intolerant form of Islam that believes that all Christians are allied to the invader.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Marjory Kempe

A contemporary of Julian was Marjory Kempe. She was born into the prosperous East-Anglian town of Kings Lynn, which is about fifty miles to the north of Norwich. Her father had been mayor of the town several times. She married young and when she was about twenty, after the birth of her first child, she became seriously ill and she despaired of her life. Memories of the godlessness of her past life haunted her and in her despair she began to pray earnestly. The fear of hell was very real in the late Middle Ages. At this moment she had a comforting vision of the Lord. The extract I shall add here gives a flavour of the English used at this period.

Then on a time as she lay alone and her keepers were from her, our merciful Lord Christ Jesu, ever to be trusted (worshiped be his name) never forsaking his servant in time of need, appeared to his creature, which had forsaken him, in likeness of a man, most seemly, most beauteous, and most amiable that ever might be seen with man's eye, clad in a mantle of purple silk, sitting upon her bed's side, looking upon her with so blessed a cheer that she was strengthened in all her spirits, said to her these words: "Daughter, why hast thou forsaken me, and I forsook never thee?" And anon as he had said these words she saw verily how the air opened bright as any levin (lightning), and he sty up into the air, not right hastily and quickly, but fair and easily that she might well behold him in the air till it was closed again. And anon the creature was stabled (calmed) in her wits and in her reason as well as ever she was before, and prayed her husband as soon as he came to her that she might have the keys of the buttery to take her meat and drink as she had done before.

Although she went on to bear her husband another thirteen children she led a life of amazing spiritual activity.She seemed to have travelled over much of Northern Europe. She also met Julian of Norwich in her cell in Norwich and they discussed the validity of her visions. Julian wisely said that since the outcome of her visions was "charity" they should be accepted.
One odd fact that surprises modern readers is her continual lament that she was no longer virginal. In the end she persuaded her long-suffering husband to enter a compact of voluntary celibacy for the rest of their lives.
It is an interesting fact that for the first fifteen hundred years of the history of the church celibacy and virginity were highly prized and the married were virtually second-class spiritual citizens. Since Luther, this perception has been totally reversed.
As one reads her autobiography one is amazed at her faith and her boldness. She would rebuke sin and ungodliness wherever she went. In fact, many of her contemporaries considered her a bit mad.
There is a very interesting and readable edition of her work in modern English published by Norton Critical Editions. UK Amazon sells second-hand copies for just over £5.

The original MS was lost for centuries and was only discovered in 1934.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Julian of Norwich

As I was clearing out one of the drawers of my bedside cabinet I came across a dog-eared scrap of paper covered with my writing. I must have written it a few years ago and it contains a passage from the Revelations of Julian of Norwich, which she wrote about 1373. She lived the life of an anchoret, living in a cell attached to the church.
At the same time, our Lord showed me in a spiritual manner, how intimately he loves us. I saw that he is everything that is good and supports us. He clothes us in his love, envelops us and embraces us. He wraps us round in his tender love and he will never abandon us. As I understand it, he is everything that is good. He also showed me a tiny thing lying in the palm of my hand, the size of a hazelnut. I looked at this with the eye of my soul and thought, "What is this?" And is this is the answer that came to me. "It is all that is made" I was amazed that it managed to survive. It was so small that I thought it might disintegrate. And in my mind I heard this answer, "It lives on and will live on because God loves it." So everything owes its existence to the love of God. The first is God made it; the second is God loves it; and the third is God preserves it.
For those who did Middle English at college I give the passage from the original manuscript.

    And in þis he shewed me a lytil
    thyng þe quantite of a hasyl
    nott. lyeng in þe pawme of
    my hand as it had semed. and
    it was as rownde as eny ball.
    I loked þer upon wt þe eye of
    of my vnderstondyng. and I
    þought what may þis be. and
    it was answered generally thus.
    It is all þat is mad. I merueled
    howe it myght laste. for me
    þought it myght soden ly haue
    fall to nought for lytyllhed. &
    I was answered in my vnder=

    stondyng. It lastyth & euer shall
    for god louyth it. and so hath
    all thyng his begynning by
    þe loue of god. In this lytyll
    thyng I sawe thre propertees.
    The fyrst is. þt god made it. þe
    secunde is þet louyth it. & þe þrid
    is. þat god kepith it. But what

Friday, 12 February 2010

The Celts 2

The Farne Islands, once a place of Celtic pilgrimage, is bleak enough in the summer. In winter it must be harsh in the extreme. Nearby are the rocks from which Grace Darling and her father, in 1838, rescued nine passengers and crew from a shipwreck and brought them to safety. I have seen the 21 ft. open rowing boat that was used and I marvelled just how such a slender young woman could handle such a craft in a storm

One of my posts was about Celtic Christianity. I tried to drive away some popular misconceptions.

Now for the positive. When the original Celts migrated from Ireland, through Scotland, finally arriving in the north east of England in about the middle of the seventh century, they found the land still in the grip of paganism and pagan worship. With great faith and courage and determination they decided to go on a mission to bring England back to its Christian heritage. Travelling by foot, they would approach a tribal leader and boldly and courageously urge him to embrace the gospel and get rid of all forms of paganism. Many large scale people movements took place. Their apostolic journeys are amazing considering the primitive condition of the roads at that period. Columbine, travelling mainly on foot, reached Austria and Switzerland.
The Celts had a high doctrine of creation. This world was not some inanimate, evolving machine, nor was it a simple vale of tears; it was alive with the creative action and providence of God. He was the master
of the winds and the waves and the sea.
There is a fascinating passage in Bede. Mentioning how some of the saints seemed to have power over the very forces of nature, he goes on to say, "We , on the other hand, often lose that dominion over creation, that is ours by right, through neglecting to serve its Creator". They undoubtedly saw and expected many healings and amazing providences
There is one instructive story from Bede's Life of Cuthbert. The monks were hoping to bring several boat-loads of wood back to the monastery, when the wind veered and carried the boats out to sea. The local peasants mocked their prayers, shouting out, " They have done away with the old ways (pagan worship) and nobody knows what to do." But Cuthbert continued to intercede on his knees. The wind suddenly changed and brought the boats safely back into the Tyne. The peasants were suitably impressed and spread the news of the event.
Another thing that impresses you when you read these small biographies is the care taken of the poor and the marginalised. Their leaders encouraged a heart and life of compassion. Cuthbert, when he retired to the bleak fastnesses of the Farne Islands, found that his primitive abode became a place of pilgrimage. Many came from great distances. Bede writes, "No one left unconsoled, no one had to carry the burdens he came with. Spirits that were chilled with sadness he could warm back to hope again with a pious word."
Another facet of their lives was their keen perception that the church faced a subtle and determined enemy. There are a lot of stories of spiritual battles concerning people and places. They were very conscious of the wiles of the enemy. It is instructive to read of the famous Celtic prayers of protection, the most famous of which is Patrick's Breastplate. Many Christians, including myself, do not take this matter seriously, trusting in a sort of carnal self-confidence, so popular in this age addicted to positive thinking. Mini disasters often occur.

Here is a Celtic prayer that will give you a flavour of the spirituality.

The arms of God be around my shoulders,
The touch of the Holy Spirit upon my head,
The sign of Christ's cross upon my forehead,
The sound of the Holy Spirit in my ears,
The fragrance of the Holy spirit in my nostrils,
The vision of heaven's company in my eyes,
The conversation of heaven's company on my lips,
The work of God's church in my hands,
The service of God and my neighbour in my feet,
A home for god in my heart,
And to God, the father of all, my entire being.
(Lorica of St Fursa)
My advice to those interested in this subject is simple.
Avoid, first of all, the many books about the Celts and go to the translations that are available of the original documents. "The Age of Bede" by Penguin books is an excellent one to start with.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Close ups

I thought that my blog needs some colour, so I am including a few close ups of the glorious attractions that lie in our gardens and parks. Spring is on its way and I am looking forward to snapping away and capturing a few of creation's marvels. Almost any digital camera can do the same, with a little patience and a steady hand, and perhaps a tripod. One of the most amazing macro photographers uses a simple bean pole to steady his camera. Look up Lord V on Flickr.

Thursday, 4 February 2010


This subject is certainly a hot potato at the moment. Politicians in the main, with exception of Nick Griffin, avoid it like the plague. Many have strong views but are inhibited because the feel that they will be called racists. Yesterday was a bit of a shock. The respectable and socially conservative Town's Women's Guild have stated that about 80% of the respondents to a recent survey in their organisation say the mass immigration is destroying the cultural identity of the British people. A few weeks previously the former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, said that the very DNA of Britain is being radically changed by excessive immigration. He has been strongly criticised by clerics in the Anglican Church. Critics will say that this is nonsense because Britain has always been a haven for those seeking either asylum or a better life. This is undoubtedly true. From about 400AD, together with much of Western Europe, Britain received enormous numbers from abroad, from the Anglo-Saxon invasions that occurred after the Romans left our shores to the coming of the Vikings about three hundred years later. This completely changed our culture from Celtic to an Anglo-Saxon one. After the Norman
Conquest our language and culture were once again changed. Norman French gradually amalgamated with Anglo-Saxon to produce the English we speak today. Most of Western Europe was going through similar turbulent incursions. Goths, Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Huns, Vandals, and Lombards poured out of the steppes of Central Asia and overthrew the Roman based civilisations of Europe between the years 400 and 600 AD. Rome itself was sacked by the barbarians in 410AD and later in 556AD.
But it is fascinating to realise that these massive and destructive movements were very different to the tide of immigration today. Fifty years after the barbarian invasions it would have taken a DNA specialist, if this technique had existed, to disentangle the racial mix of the time. The tribes were all of Indo-European stock and they would be virtually indistinguishable within a generation. Secondly, and this is vastly more important, the invaders quickly picked up the culture of the host countries and most became at least nominally Christian, though many at first adhered to the Arian heresy.
Today things are very different. There a fifty-three million Muslims in Europe,and sixteen millions in the EU, many of whom are convinced that their religion and culture are superior to those of Europe. They have no desire to integrate: in fact some groups are quite adamant that their aim is to Islamise Europe totally.
A few years ago Colonel Ghadaffi of Libya stated publically, that such are the number of Muslims in Europe,over 50 million at present,that our continent would become Islamic without a bullet or a shot being fired. Given the vastly superior fertility of Muslim families this is feasible. Also there is a cultural vacuum in post-Christian Europe that is waiting to be filled.
Just before he died, Derek Prince said that Britain would be the first European state to become a Muslim one, an opinion that the well-known Baptist minster, David Pawson, fully concurs with. See his video series on this important subject. Are they panic mongers or do they have some truth?

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Celtic Christianity

The window in Cuthbert's chapel on the Farne Islands

A few shots of Lindisfarne today

There has been for a number of years an in intense interest in Celtic Christianity. When you read the first-hand accounts of the heroic labours and saintly lives of Columban and Aiden and Cuthbert a feeling of nostalgia arises, a feeling that this movement represents a form of authentic indigenous Christianity that we can all learn from. The Celtic church seems at first view to be a truly British and Irish phenomena that seems to untouched by the growing power and influence of the Roman church on the continent. Above all, many feel we can copy and learn and even immerse ourselves in Celtic Christian culture.
Most of this is of doubtful validity. The Celtic church was in no way an independent church. Even in turbulent times which saw the final withdrawal of the Roman legions from Britain and the Anglo-Saxon invasions along the East Coast, we were never cut off from what was happening on the Continent. They were never rebels against what was going on in Rome. They believed in a unified church. The Celts only differed in several minor ways: they calculated Easter differently. their tonsure (shaving of the head) and slight variations in their rite.
If a modern Christian were to be transported to Lindisfarne or York at this period he or she would find themselves in an alien land. The long services were all in Latin, with extensive periods of the liturgical chanting of the psalms. The sermons would, among other things, declaim the virtues of asceticism and the superiority of celibacy over marriage. Nearby would be a monastery where the tonsured monks lived lives of such self-denial that would make the average modern Christian shudder. On Columban's mission to the Continent it is said that he ate little more than herbs, berries and the bark of young trees.
I have noted that several Celtic communities have sprung up around the world in past thirty years, but none of them has, as far as I know, imitated the central beam of their mission thrust - the rejection of marriage and the embracing of an extreme ascetical life style, in order to be totally free to evangelise. I feel that there has been a lot of cherry picking here.
Having said all this negative stuff. I still believe that the Celtic Christians have a lot that we can aspire to and learn from. But that will be for another post.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010


I am going to write a page or two on the subject of Christian worship. It is a popular buzz word at the moment and number of worship CDs increases by the day. First of all I am going to look at the subject historically and finally I shall make a few comments that are very relevant to modern day church life.
The word for worship in the New Testament is proskuneo. It is used over fifty times and it means literally to bow low and kiss the hand in reverence. It obviously had a secular as well as a spiritual meaning. In the NT there is virtually no clear descriptions of what a typical service was like. But we have a few glimpses. We learn in 1Corinthians 14 that there was a surprising amount of freedom. Anyone it seemed had the the freedom to bring a tongue or a revelation or a prophecy to the assembly. There was only one proviso; that everything was to be done decently and in order. We also learn that believers were encouraged to sing and to make melodies in their hearts to the Lord (Ephesians 5:19) It all seems to have been spontaneous. All scholars agree that all worship in apostolic times was purely vocal.
There were no musical instruments. Why? Religious instrumental music was associated in the minds of believers with pagan temples.
During the following centuries the main form of music was a sort of chant using the psalms and other biblical passages. This of course developed into the Gregorian chant of the middle ages. Most modern Christians find this sort of thing totally alien.
The first instrument used was the organ, which seems to have been introduced during the time of Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century.
Music does not seem to have played an important role during the Reformation. Calvin thought it was like going back to Judaic practices. In Puritan times church music was mainly the singing of what is known as the metrical psalms. This involved putting the psalms into verse form. It was all very formal
The real breakthrough occurred in the eighteenth century. Methodism swept the country and the songs of redemption could be heard across the land. Charles Wesley was probably the finest hymn writer that the English- speaking world has ever known. His lyrics are good verse and contain solid biblical and doctrinal truths. They are still sung throughout the world.
Here are some of the most famous:
The next important event that has deeply affected Christian worship occurred after 1859, the start of the second evangelical revival.. Many thousands of ordinary uneducated man and women were swept into the church. Many could not read the standard hymns. To help the new converts, a simple refrain or chorus was attached to every verse. The words were quickly learned and the converts could sing lustily and not be embarrassed.
The next phase can be seen in the pentecostal revival that spread out during the first three decades of the past century. The meetings were held in public halls and many of the converts had no knowledge of traditional hymns. The meetings were often preceded by a lively interlude of chorus singing.
What was worship like in those days? After a period of chorus singing and one or two traditional hymns (see Redemption Hymnal for examples), a reading was given and then there was a period of open worship around the Lord's Table. The people were encouraged not to pray but to bring their offering of praise and worship in their own words to the Lord. Some of these times were very precious. Sadly this form of open worship has almost disappeared in most charismatic churches.The reason is simple. In the last thirty years the introduction of the acoustic guitar and powerful electronic amplification have completely changed the nature of Christian worship. Traditional hymns are sung less and less. and chorus singing led by a lively band has largely taken over the scene.
Band-led singing is worship in the minds of most modern Christians today. I have no problem with modern worship. Singing is part of our spiritual life. But all singing, be it hymns or choruses, is basically liturgical: it is the repeating of words written by another. Liturgy has its place but not too big a one. Some worship services have sometimes an hour and half of singing. Unless God comes down in remarkable power, I think this unscriptural and excessive.
Imagine being a father and your children never thanked you in their own words, but used only words learned elsewhere. I am making a plea that there be less chorus singing and a lot more spontaneous public worship.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Romford Market

I shall use this post to show what this thousand-year-old market town is like in the gloomy days of winter. The celebrated market has been going three times a week for the past 750 yearsThe sprats in this picture are a local delicacy. Lightly dusted with flour and quickly fried in olive oil they are very tasty and very nutritious (full of omega 3 fatty acids)


I have been reading a very interesting book on psychology called by the surprising name: 59 seconds. It is written Richard Wiseman, professor of the Public Understanding of Psychology. He looks at such subjects as happiness, relationships and decision-making from the point of view of rigorous scientific research, and not from the comments and writings of the self-help specialists that are found in so many popular magazines. For instance, this sort of positive use of the imagination is very often encouraged in order to achieve one's dreams.
"Just shut your eyes and picture yourself on a superb beach sipping cool champagne, clothed in fashionabe designer gear, surveying a message on your Blackberry that tells you of your corporate success."

This sort of advice about obtaining success and happiness has been common in the past forty years. Wiseman says that research is clear that such exercises are at best ineffective and at worst harmful. It ill prepares people for the setbacks and pains that occur in life.
Most people when asked what would increase their happiness in life usually say that a steep increase in their finances would be number one on their list. But modern research seems to back what Aristotle said in his Ethics over 2000 years ago."For assuredly he who possesses great store of riches is no nearer happiness than he who has enough for his daily needs." As Jesus said in Luke 12:15 "A man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." Although extreme poverty causes misery, it seems that once the basic needs are met big increases in wealth only bring temporary increases in satisfaction. It all boils down to the coffee pot syndrome. This experiment has been done many times. Imagine going for a long walk in cold weather. You spy an inviting house. You are invited in and the smell of freshly roasted coffee assails you nostrils. You look forward to a delightful espresso or capachino. The strange thing psychologist have noted when reviewing this scenario is that within ten minutes the delicious aroma has gone and the only way of getting it back is to go outside for about ten minutes. You see, human nature is incredibly adaptable. The new car or the new house only provide a short -term boost. We quickly get used and familiar with the new. As the book says, "Yesterday's luxuries can soon become today's necessities and tomorrow's relics." It has been computed that possessions and wealth provide us with only 10% of our happiness. As our capacity for happiness is at least 50% genetically controlled, what do we have to do and believe so that the remaining 40% that lies within our control can be put to the best use? I shall answer that in my next blog.