Monthly Archives: February 2017

Jesus says it out loud…

Mark 8:27-33 (CEB)
Jesus predicts his death

Jesus and his disciples went into the villages near Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”

They told him, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others one of the prophets.”

He asked them, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Christ.” Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Then Jesus began to teach his disciples: “The Human One[a] must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and the legal experts, and be killed, and then, after three days, rise from the dead.” He said this plainly. But Peter took hold of Jesus and, scolding him, began to correct him. Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, then sternly corrected Peter: “Get behind me, Satan. You are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts.”

I love how Jesus just comes right to the point here. He doesn’t fanny about. “Who do YOU say that I am?”

It’s the kind of direct question about faith that my wing of the church has trained itself never to ask. Maybe for lots of good reasons, chiefly, I suspect, sheer embarassment at the excesses of the past, a distancing from the in-your-face evangelism that feels overpowering and slightly threatening.

In response – and also, perhaps, as a consequence of our own shifting confidence in the way the Christian narrative used to be told – we have fallen into the habit of simply backing off and talking about anything else under the sun EXCEPT the Gospel.

I think I have allowed myself to think that as long as I am a decent and approachable bloke and appear relatively normal – I do drink and sometimes I swear royally – then people will twig the whole Christianity thing by a vague process of osmosis.

A quote wrongly but persistently attributed to St. Francis reinforces this: “Preach the Gospel. If you have to, use words.” Wahayy! No need to say anything at all, Phil! Why risk the embarassment of a potentially awkward silence?

Yet here we have Jesus with a simple, direct, personal challenge – using words! If anyone’s deeds self-evidently preached the gospel it would be Jesus – yet he felt the need for words.

I think it is at least possible that a few people I have got to know and got on well with, people who have shown an interest in the church and what it’s about have left disappointed and maybe a bit hurt.

“I can see clearly that this christianity thing is important in Phil’s life, so why won’t he talk about it with me? Does he think it isn’t FOR me? Am I unworthy of it? He talks endlessly about football or politics or dogs or being a parent – just about anything except this thing he keeps to himself.”

Could it be that I fear rejection so much that I am simply too scared to ask potentially life-changing questions in encounters where people might be waiting for me to do just that?

Ooof – there’s a challenge for me!

“Who do you say that I am?”

posted from Bloggeroid

I got rhythm!

Genesis 8:6-22 (CEB)

After forty days, Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made. He sent out a raven, and it flew back and forth until the waters over the entire earth had dried up. Then he sent out a dove to see if the waters on all of the fertile land had subsided, but the dove found no place to set its foot. It returned to him in the ark since waters still covered the entire earth. Noah stretched out his hand, took it, and brought it back into the ark. He waited seven more days and sent the dove out from the ark again. The dove came back to him in the evening, grasping a torn olive leaf in its beak. Then Noah knew that the waters were subsiding from the earth. He waited seven more days and sent out the dove, but it didn’t come back to him again. In Noah’s six hundred first year, on the first day of the first month, the waters dried up from the earth. Noah removed the ark’s hatch and saw that the surface of the fertile land had dried up.

Noah built an altar to the Lord. He took some of the clean large animals and some of the clean birds, and placed entirely burned offerings on the altar. The Lord smelled the pleasing scent, and the Lord thought to himself, I will not curse the fertile land anymore because of human beings since the ideas of the human mind are evil from their youth. I will never again destroy every living thing as I have done.

As long as the earth exists,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and hot,
summer and autumn,
day and night
will not cease.

Hmmm… so, the day after God’s Spirit reminds me that my morning reading is supposed to be devotional and I am not supposed to get distracted chasing theological squirrels up trees – this is dangled before me as if it is some kind of test!

Most writers who write about contemplative prayer eventually get around to giving advice about what to do when your mind wanders. The best ones all seem to advise that you merely acknowledge the thought and mentally store it away for attention later on. In other words, allow the intrusion – it might be important – but put it on a to-do-later list. This is easier said than done – but it is good advice!

So that’s the approach I am going to take here. Like I did yesterday, I will acknowledge the stuff but then leave it for me to address in another way outside of this blog.

So – there is stuff in this account!

First – the whole raven/dove shizzle. Noah is not the first person to star in his own Deluge Myth. The Gilgamesh Epic stars Utnapishtim who is told by the god Ea to build an ark. (Sound familiar?) To cut a long story short, his ark grounds on a mountain and he sends out successively a dove, a swallow and a raven… Noah leaves out the swallow but sends a raven and a dove in the opposite order.

Presumably this whole ancient art of using birds to determine ground conditions after flooding is lost to us, not that the internet is short of attempted explanations (look them up for yourself – none of them are very convincing!) This distracts and irritates me because I hate unexplained but seemingly significant details in stories!

Then there is stuff about Noah sacrificing one of every “clean” animal and God liking the smell of what must have been a massive fire in the middle of a huge bloodbath! If the animals went in 2by2 then the only way these species survive is if Noah sacrifices the males and all the females have become pregnant whilst on the ark… but then there is the bit that says there seven pairs which (if it wasn’t deemed controversial to say so) might suggest this is more than one tale woven together… which might also explain the raven and the dove.

Then there is the whole can of worms (well, at this point just two of them!) Which is stuff about whether Noah was a real person, was the flood localised or literally the entire world and is this a true story or (equally validly in my opinion) a story written as a vehicle for truths to be told.

It’s hard to resist getting nudged off track by all of that stuff! But – I have iron resolve (yeah, right!) – I have noted the stuff and set it aside for another time and I can now move on!


Here’s the thing for today. I love the bit at the end where God promises Rhythm.

As long as the earth exists,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and hot,
summer and autumn,
day and night
will not cease.

I think we were created with rhythms that help our lives thrive and flourish. Today I went with Lythan and Carys to see the Hockney exhibition “Spring Awakens”. There is something about the rhythm of the seasons that is fundamental. Likewise day and night. The news has focussed a lot on sleep recently and how disturbed sleep patterns are bad for us.

Technology has allowed us to discard many of these rhythms. Electric light meant we could stay up late and work overnight; refridgerated container ships blur the seasons meaning that everything we eat is always in season. (You can add your own examples!)

I’m not sure this is good for us, but it’s progress so get with the programme old man! 🙂

There’s another rhythm that I think is good for us. That is some kind of rhythm of prayer. It won’t be the same rhythm for everyone, but I do think some rhythm is helpful. My current rhythm is to pray first thing when I get up and last thing when I go to bed.

Of course there is a thin line between rhythm and habit. I’m not sure where one becomes the other, and I am not sure that habit is always a bad thing. There is a thin line between rhythm and rote. My guess is that rhythm allows for change and variety whereas “rote” doesn’t. Praying by rote doesn’t sound like a rich experience to me. But having a rhythm of prayer sounds like those words in Genesis – how we were created to be.

posted from Bloggeroid

Different ways of reading…

Acts 13:46-49 (CEB)

Speaking courageously, Paul and Barnabas said, “We had to speak God’s word to you first. Since you reject it and show that you are unworthy to receive eternal life, we will turn to the Gentiles. This is what the Lord commanded us:

I have made you a light for the Gentiles,

so that you could bring salvation to the end of the earth.”

When the Gentiles heard this, they rejoiced and honoured the Lord’s word. Everyone who was appointed for eternal life believed, and the Lord’s word was broadcast throughout the entire region.

These verses are full of stuff.

There is historical-type stuff about the early church and how and when the split between Judaism and Christianity was finally established – how Christianity made the journey from being a sect within Judaism to being its own fully-fledged religion in its own right. And, of course, you’d expect to see some successionist language through that process. That whole thing would make an interesting study and might have been the subject of a fascinating blog. But not this one!

There is stuff in there about Jews and Gentiles and ideas about the purpose of God choosing Israel not because they are special but because they were to be a light to the nations – to show and lead the nations by the attractiveness of their example. It calls to mind all those prophetic words about Jerusalem being a shining city on a hill to draw all nations. Lots of ink has been spilled over these ideas and a blogger might well be tempted to wade in and spill some more – even if it is only virtual ink – but not this one!

There is stuff in there that hints at some kind of idea about Divine Election. When the Gentiles got to hear Paul and Barnabas preach it was those who had already been “appointed for eternal life” who believed. What on earth is that about? It would be easy for a blogger to get drawn into that and get on his internet high horse to rant about theology and doctrine. But not this one – oh no!

Those of you who know me will be marvelling at this new-found restraint! “It won’t last” I can hear you predicting.

Well, my mind did range over all of those possibilities as I listened to those words from Acts this morning. But then the Holy Spirit told me to give my head a shake and reminded me what this blog is for and – more importantly – why it is that I read the bible each morning.

I read the Bible each morning in order to listen for God speaking to me through God’s Word; and I write the blog as a discipline to make sure that I don’t then simply forget about it but DO properly reflect on it through the day.

So – whilst there is room for a historical or theological or doctrinal reading of this text – and whilst I do find that interesting (and I will probably follow up on that in some way) that’s NOT what a daily rhythm of reading the bible is for.

I am commited to reading the bible each morning and asking God’s Spirit to read it with me and show me where and how God wants me to respond. Anyone can do this. In the company of God’s Spirit we can all hear God speaking to us.

The academic reading and the theological/doctrinal reading – yes, that does need expertise and training and background knowledge – you can safely leave that to the experts. BUT that is NOT the same as abandoning the bible to experts!

Devotional reading is within the grasp of anyone who honestly seeks God’s word for their life in the company of the Holy Spirit.

I am such that the Holy Spirit needs to remind me of this often! I am easily distracted chasing theological rabbits down holes. Fortunately God’s Spirit is infinitely patient and leads me gently back to where a should be, always whispering in my ear:

“Yes, Phil, that’s fascinating! Maybe you could go and read up about that later on. But for now, listen for a moment and hear what it is God is saying to you about your life and your living today.”

posted from Bloggeroid

signs not in use…


Mark 8:11-13 (CEB)

Looking for proof

The Pharisees showed up and began to argue with Jesus. To test him, they asked for a sign from heaven. With an impatient sigh, Jesus said, “Why does this generation look for a sign? I assure you that no sign will be given to it.” Leaving them, he got back in the boat and crossed to the other side of the lake.

My blogs this week will all be done on my phone whilst up in Bradford on holiday visiting Carys at Uni. They will therefore be shorter and less swizzy with formatting and effects!

The Pharisees are harassing Jesus again – asking for a sign.  Presumably, as they think Jesus is a charlatan, they hope he will try and fail to deliver, and the crowds will be disappointed and Jesus will lose credibility.

We ask for “signs” or “proof” from people we don’t really trust or don’t really believe in – we want a demonstration because we won’t take their word for it.

The people of Israel should have been very aware that such things are a waste of time. Remember Elijah?  He totally pwned the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel with a spectacular demonstration of heavenly signs – yet the people did not turn to his God.

God has long since given up thinking that anything as easy as a crowd-pulling sign from heaven is what we need.  Jesus seems to have given up that idea too. He refuses to rise to the bait, shakes his head, sighs and sails off over the lake shouting back over his shoulder that they won’t be getting one anytime soon.

Looking a bit closer, Jesus sighs and asks “why does this generation ask for signs?”

“this generation” – the generation that gets to see Jesus walking and talking and teaching and living the Kingdom of God in their very midst. They have such a level of incomprehension that they ask Jesus – the most obvious and clear heavenly sign they could ever have – for a heavenly sign!

It would be like going up to Sir Bradley Wiggins and asking him if he could point out a decent cyclist…

Jesus sighs with frustration. I’m glad he does that cos sometimes I do – and now I can say it is a Christlike thing to do! 🙂

We have no need of spectacular God-proving signs. We have Jesus – that’s all we need to know. If you have seen Jesus, you have seen God. That’s really all you need to know. In similar vein, you don’t need to pray that your friends will receive a miraculous sign from above. The have all they need as Christ is made real for them by the way YOU reveal Christ in your day-to-day Kingdom living.

#things Jesus didn’t say?

Matthew 5:17-20 (CEV)

The Law of Moses

Don’t suppose that I came to do away with the Law and the Prophets. I did not come to do away with them, but to give them their full meaning. Heaven and earth may disappear. But I promise you that not even a jot or a tittle will ever disappear from the Law. Everything written in it must happen.
If you reject even the least important command in the Law and teach others to do the same, you will be the least important person in the kingdom of heaven. But if you obey and teach others its commands, you will have an important place in the kingdom. You must obey God’s commands better than the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law obey them. If you don’t, I promise you that you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.

I used to do a thing sometimes with kids in school assemblies. When I was confident that they knew a biblical story and would switch off if I told it to them through sheer familiarity, I would sometimes totally change the ending to shock them back to life…  for example:

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

As a man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, robbers attacked him and grabbed everything he had. They beat him up and ran off, leaving him half dead.
A priest happened to be going down the same road. But when he saw the man, he walked by on the other side. Later a temple helper came to the same place. But when he saw the man who had been beaten up, he also went by on the other side.
A man from Samaria then came traveling along that road. When he saw the man, he walked over, and seeing that he was still alive, gave him a good kicking and threw him over the hedge.  “That’s how you should all be”, said Jesus.

That always wakes them up.  It’s my one tactic with kids that I rely on everywhere I go – get things wrong and they LOVE to correct me! (If that doesn’t work I’m stuffed and I run away and leave it to the professionals!)
They protest – that’s not what happened and that doesn’t sound like Jesus.
They are right – it doesn’t sound like Jesus, does it?
We like to think we have a feel for what Jesus sounds like – the kind of thing Jesus would say and wouldn’t say.  That’s entirely reasonable!  After all, the Spirit lives within us reminding us all the time what Jesus is like, no?
So – if I say that at first glance this passage from Matthew’s Gospel doesn’t sound like Jesus, are you going to burn me as a bible-hating heretic? 
Of course it is a very convenient argument to deploy if you stumble across something difficult simply to declare that it doesn’t sound like Jesus – and I know that these verses are meat and drink to a particular sub-set of Christians who gleefully point it out and this declare that women should stay at home and shut up, children should be birched and anyone with non hetero-normal experience of sexuality should be forced into celibacy and/or psychiatric treatment.  (whilst admiring their own recently acquired tattoo of the cross, wearing mixed-fibre clothing and biting into their bacon roll…)

The four Gospels are clearly different – largely because they are written by different real people and for different audiences in different contexts.  (If God simply dictated them – why would s/he dictate four and not just one authoritative account?)  Matthew is a bit of a mystery – scholars still disagree about who he was and who he was writing for.  Either way he seems to have a very complex relationship with “The Jews”.  Some go as far as declaring that Matthew’s Gospel is anti-semitic and should be a banned text because of the damage it has done over the centuries in fostering anti-semitism across Europe and beyond.  Yet in it are puzzling passages like this which sound very Pharisaic in nature

So – this passage doesn’t sound like Jesus.  Either Jesus didn’t say this, OR, this isn’t saying what it seems to be saying at first glance!  I’m happy with either of these approaches!  Biblical literalists would be equally cross with either of them.  “Look Phil – you’re just changing what the bible says to suit your own sensitivities!  You can’t pick and choose!”  That’s a serious point and not one to dismissed lightly.  But in my defence I call none other than Martin Luther to the witness stand: “Therefore if the adversaries press scripture against Christ, we urge Christ against the scriptures.” I am not sure I have ever seen a more radical way of expressing distaste for legalistic interpretations of the Bible than this one!

Jesus regularly dismissed jots and tittles of the law and he was hounded and harried by Pharisees and legal scholars everytime he did it.  Plucking corn on the Sabbath, healing people on the Sabbath… Jesus trampled on those soul-destroying jots and tittles and enjoyed trampling on them!

So – either way, I don’t really care – Jesus didn’t say this, OR the passage isn’t saying what it seems to be saying.  The latter is probably the least controversial approach – and there are myriad fine examples, and that’s the approach that will be taken in many pulpits this coming weekend as this passage will be preached on.  (One fine example is our Moderator Ruth Whitehead – here’s what she will be preaching: Sunday’s Coming! )

(Ruth writes a fine preaching blog most Sundays – if you want to follow it it is linked on my floating sidebar on the right over there – hover your mouse over it and “other blogs worth a look” appears by magic!  Or you can just click on the “Sunday’s Coming” link above and subscribe from there.)

If Jesus didn’t say this – then Matthew edited and arranged material in such a way that it looks like Jesus is saying this!  I know this sounds shocking – but that’s really what the Gospels are – four blokes arranging, editing and adapting material, some of it commonly available, some of it fresh material that they have gathered themselves, into a narrative designed to communicate the Gospel to a particular audience experiencing a particular set of issues in a particular place and time.  

There – I’ve said it.  I predict the sky won’t fall in and I won’t have to sit and write a blog that drives me through excessive mental contortions to contrive an explanation as to why Jesus is telling you that actually you DO have to obey every tiny jot and tittle of the Pharisaic law.  You should be grateful!  🙂
By the way, obviously, “jot and tittle” is a much more fun way of saying “cross the t’s and dot the i’s”.  In Hebrew, “jot” was the smallest letter and a “tittle” was a pen flourish on some letters.  It looked like this:

Of theol-duggery and buckaroo…

Genesis 3:1-8 (CEV)

The First Sin

The snake was sneakier than any of the other wild animals that the Lord God had made. One day it came to the woman and asked, “Did God tell you not to eat fruit from any tree in the garden?”
The woman answered, “God said we could eat fruit from any tree in the garden, except the one in the middle. He told us not to eat fruit from that tree or even to touch it. If we do, we will die.”
“No, you won’t!” the snake replied. “God understands what will happen on the day you eat fruit from that tree. You will see what you have done, and you will know the difference between right and wrong, just as God does.”
The woman stared at the fruit. It looked beautiful and tasty. She wanted the wisdom that it would give her, and she ate some of the fruit. Her husband was there with her, so she gave some to him, and he ate it too. Right away they saw what they had done, and they realized they were naked. Then they sewed fig leaves together to make something to cover themselves.
Late in the afternoon a breeze began to blow, and the man and woman heard the Lord God walking in the garden. They were frightened and hid behind some trees.

Oooooof!!  Yet another heavy text from the start of Genesis – at least, millenia of religious theol-duggery have MADE this passage heavy!  It’s like a ticking time-bomb buckaroo-donkey, so much stuff hung on it that you have to tiptoe around it veeeeeery careful for fear you will set it off!

Where to even begin??

Well – it’s 11:31pm on Friday night – so you’ll forgive me if I don’t grapple with every theological nuance that has been injected into this text over the years.

Today I have been pondering the EFFECT of the man and the woman eating that fruit.  After they eat it they are ashamed of their nakedness and they hide themselves from God.

To me it reads like a classic “loss of innocence” trope – an awakening.

It’s not at all unlike a coming-of-age:

baby – happy to be naked – knows nothing of shame or guilt or guile – has nothing to hide…

teenager – suddenly has secrets – locks doors – hides things under the mattress – has a fb/instagram/tumblr account or a diary that would be distressing for mum and dad to read…

grown up – leaves the nest and feels that an era has past – comes home and finds their bedroom has been turned into mum’s crafting room…

Maybe this is a story about humankind “coming of age”, losing our “innocence”.  It’s a good thing, it’s what has to happen, but how often do we look back and crave a simpler, less complicated life – a life where we didn’t have that knowledge of “good and evil”, a life where we simply had no concept of shame or guilt or unworthiness…

Maybe God grieves too… I write this as I celebrate my eldest child getting a job and preparing to actually leave home and get married.  I’m excited for him, but at the same time I don’t want him to go.

You don’t really have to worry about a baby loving you, or a toddler – they do – largely because you feed them!  Kids growing up and leaving home – the time when they get the first real chance to spread their wings and then choose whether or not they are still part of your life – that’s a lot more scary and a lot more emotionally risky.  If I let this bird out of the cage – will it ever come back?

Maybe that’s partly what this story is about.  The risk God takes in letting his children go their own way and desperately watching to see if they will ever turn to look back.

Some of the most intimate and startling language about God’s love for his children is in Hosea chapter 11:

When Israel was a child, I loved him, and I called my son out of Egypt.
But as the saying goes, “The more they were called, the more they rebelled.”
They never stopped offering incense and sacrifices to the idols of Baal.
I took Israel by the arm and taught them to walk.
But they would not admit that I was the one who had healed them.
I led them with kindness and with love, not with ropes.
I held them close to me; I bent down to feed them.
But they trusted Egypt instead of returning to me;

It’s heartbreaking to read!

Yet that’s what I hope this passage is about.  For far too long it has been held hostage and strangled by oppressive dogma about “original sin” and other similar nonsense.

Let it be this for you tonight – a heartfelt story of God’s love for his wandering children who have grown up.  God knows you, God loves you, God’s heart is in his mouth as he lets you live your life on your own terms and in your own way – hoping against hope that you will look back and smile, keep in touch…

Eve – mad cat lady?

Genesis 2:18-25 (CEV)

The Lord God said, “It isn’t good for the man to live alone. I need to make a suitable partner for him.” So the Lord took some soil and made animals and birds. He brought them to the man to see what names he would give each of them. Then the man named the tame animals and the birds and the wild animals. That’s how they got their names.
None of these was the right kind of partner for the man. So the Lord God made him fall into a deep sleep, and he took out one of the man’s ribs. Then after closing the man’s side, the Lord made a woman out of the rib.
The Lord God brought her to the man, and the man exclaimed,
“Here is someone like me!
She is part of my body,
    my own flesh and bones.
She came from me, a man.
    So I will name her Woman!”

That’s why a man will leave his own father and mother. He marries a woman, and the two of them become like one person.

Although the man and his wife were both naked, they were not ashamed.
So here’s the set-up…
God has made a man and is now worried that he hasn’t thought it through and that the man is going to be lonely, what with just trees and plants and some sea and the heavenly dome to amuse him…
so… God’s first idea to solve this unforeseen problem (never mind the obvious problem of how procreation was going to happen!) is to offer him a choice of pets – and he can even name them himself.
  (No – you’re right! Adam’s was not the fourth edition – clearly!)

Seriously, though – if this is the story – just what was God’s original long term plan with procreation?  If Eve wasn’t part of the original idea and was an afterthought because Adam might get lonely – was the original plan just to have one bloke and a load of plants?

Anyway – Adam is not satisfied with the companionship of pets – despite the entire pet shop to choose from and being able to name them all himself.

Just think…  had Eve been created first and God been worried that SHE might be lonely – would we ever have got past cats or koala bears?  Would God have needed to create Adam??  hmmmm…. almost certainly not!  (also all the animals would have had rubbish names!)

So – God creates Eve – a nudey one – and Adam is happy (men are basically simple!)

That’s basically it, in a nutshell.

Anyone imagining that this story was EVER a serious attempt by ANY culture at describing in any literal or scientific sense the process by which man and woman appeared on earth has seriously missed the point of what kind of literature this is.  This is not a story about the “how” but about the “what” and “who”.  What is this human life we find that we possess – what are the fundamental things that drive us?  Who are we?  Whose are we?  etc…

Adam craves human companionship.  On a deep and fundamental level we all do – it is part of the way we are made – we fundamentally crave companionship on a very deep level.  Yes, I include people who might describe themselves as introverted.  We all need to be known and loved and noticed, we are not made to be alone.  (note: I did not say we are made to be married!)

We are made in God’s image – and maybe this idea of not being made to be alone is part of what that means.  The Trinity, if it is worth anything, is a grasping after the idea that God is not a pining, lonely God – God did not create humans because s/he was lonely or bored!  However we understand the being of God – it must involve some idea of community – hence, Father, Son, Holy Spirit – three-in-one and one-in-three, like the three musketeers, except not like them before anyone accuses me of heresy!  (basically anything you say about the Trinity is by definition heresy of some sort or another!)

So – what am I saying?  As it happens, nothing particularly startling…  we are made in God’s image – we are not made to be alone, we thrive and flourish best in community, and particularly in community that looks like the Kingdom of God.  That’s what churches are called to be…

The tree of life

Genesis 2:4b-9, 15-17 (CEB)

World’s creation in the garden

On the day the Lord God made earth and sky— before any wild plants appeared on the earth, and before any field crops grew, because the Lord God hadn’t yet sent rain on the earth and there was still no human being to farm the fertile land, though a stream rose from the earth and watered all of the fertile land— the Lord God formed the human from the topsoil of the fertile land and blew life’s breath into his nostrils. The human came to life. The Lord God planted a garden in Eden in the east and put there the human he had formed. In the fertile land, the Lord God grew every beautiful tree with edible fruit, and also he grew the tree of life in the middle of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

The Lord God took the human and settled him in the garden of Eden to farm it and to take care of it. The Lord God commanded the human, “Eat your fill from all of the garden’s trees; but don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because on the day you eat from it, you will die!”
For decades I have taken it as entirely uncontroversial and obvious that there are clearly (at least) two creation narratives in the opening chapters of Genesis.  This seems so obvious as to be, well, entirely obvious!
However, a quick firk about in Google’s intestines shows me that I am being staggeringly naive.  Apparently it is still controversial to suggest that there are two creation narratives in the early chapters of Genesis.  Website after website seems to have been set up with the singular focus of weaving mind-bendingly fatuous arguments in defense of something that simply does not need human defense!  I’m sorry if that sounds disrespectful of Christian brothers and sisters, but, well, it is disrespectful to the text to treat it in such a childish fashion.
(rant over!  maybe…)
OK – I feel better for that!  The first account is a majestic – almost liturgical – account with repeated refrain.  A paean of praise to a loving creator possibly designed for reading out loud in a worship context, with congregational responses…
Priest: And there was evening and there was morning:
Congregation:  The first day. 
Priest: And God declared:
Congregation: It is good
It is broad-sweeping grandiose poetry with pattern and form and repetition.  Glorious!
The second account is different.  It is more of a morality tale – a retelling of the creation story with a question in mind: “How did it all go so wrong?  How did it get like this?”

They are different things.  They don’t need harmonising, they are not in contradiction!
Anyway – that’s not what I was going to write about!
It sometimes surprises people when you remind them that there were TWO special trees in the garden of Eden – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (which is the one we all remember) and the tree of life.
Now, lots has been written about the symbolism of this and what it was about, but for me the image is quite a powerful one.  Right at the start there is in the garden of Eden the tree of life…  then right at the end, in the book of Revelation (chapter 22), the tree of life still stands bearing different fruit each month (what a fantastic tree!!):

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign for ever and ever.

I think we all need to be aware of the tree of life spreading its roots deep into our lives, it is part of how God made us and the world in which we lived.  

For me, a pattern of prayer is the thing that helps me remember and experience that deep-rooted flow of life that comes from God, for others it is immersion in the scriptures or losing themselves in worship and praise or being built up and supported by good christian friends or a combination of all of those things and more…

It matters not particularly HOW you make that connection, but rather WHETHER you do.  making that connection is the thing that makes our lives fruitful and rich so that we flourish and grow.

I so want one of these…

Tree of Life

Just because it is the smallest addition to our lineup of 200 Gram Florals, don’t be fooled by its size!
There are 12 different comets in one firework!  Each color represents the 12 fruits from THE TREE OF LIFE in the Book of Revelation.


El monstro del mar!

Genesis 1:20-2:3 (NASB)

Then God said, “Let the waters teem with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth in the open expanse of the heavens.” God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarmed after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind; and God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” There was evening and there was morning, a fifth day.

Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth after their kind”; and it was so. God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind; and God saw that it was good.

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food”; and it was so. God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

The Creation of Man and Woman

Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts. By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.
The observant among you might be thinking, “that’s a bit fishy… Phil normally quotes the CEV bible text, but today he has departed from the norm and used the NASB”.
You’d be right to be suspicious!  The NASB is one of the few translations that does this properly and translates Genesis 1:21 as God created the great sea monsters”, others wimp out and go for “whales” or “great sea creatures”.  The Darby translation and the English Revised Version also go for “monsters” and the Jubilee Bible 2000 goes one step better with “And God created the great dragons.”
The Hebrew is הַתַּנִּינִ֖ם – hat·tan·ni·nim – which means “serpent, dragon or sea monster.”
There are far more obvious themes to be blogging about in these verses, yes, I realise that!  Here, after all, is the creation of humankind in the image of God!  Yet, I am distracted by sea monsters.
Well – who in their right mind wouldn’t be? 
Sea monsters become, in the Bible, a symbol of uncontrollable chaos – forces beyond our control.  The sea monsters gain a name – they become “Leviathon” – and the book of Job describes Leviathon in great detail: Can you draw out Leviathon with a fish-hook?

It is no accident that Leviathon inhabits the sea – that wild, cruel, dangerous, untameable place; and it is no accident that Jesus calms the storm at sea – if you can tame the sea, if you can tame Leviathon, you can tame anything.

So I am glad to find that at the heart of this very first creation story is God creating the sea monster.  The wild, the dangerous, the unpredictable, the daunting, storm-tossed, perilous places of our lives – these things are part of the very fabric of creation, God made it that way.  The scary things that fill us with dread are not extraordinary punishments from on high, our grief is not the consequence of past misdeeds, our fear is not simply a sign of weakness and faithlessness – these things are part of the very fabric of God’s creation – they were there right from the start.

But even those places are under God’s control; even those places, perhaps especially those places are the places where Jesus stretches out his arm and whispers, “Peace, be still.”


Busy week dear?

Genesis 1:1-19 (CEV)

The Story of Creation

In the beginning God
created the heavens
    and the earth.
The earth was barren,
    with no form of life;
it was under a roaring ocean
    covered with darkness.
But the Spirit of God
    was moving over the water.

The First Day

God said, “I command light to shine!” And light started shining. God looked at the light and saw that it was good. He separated light from darkness and named the light “Day” and the darkness “Night.” Evening came and then morning—that was the first day.

The Second Day

God said, “I command a dome to separate the water above it from the water below it.” And that’s what happened. God made the dome and named it “Sky.” Evening came and then morning—that was the second day.

The Third Day

God said, “I command the water under the sky to come together in one place, so there will be dry ground.” And that’s what happened. God named the dry ground “Land,” and he named the water “Ocean.” God looked at what he had done and saw that it was good.

God said, “I command the earth to produce all kinds of plants, including fruit trees and grain.” And that’s what happened. The earth produced all kinds of vegetation. God looked at what he had done, and it was good. Evening came and then morning—that was the third day.

The Fourth Day

God said, “I command lights to appear in the sky and to separate day from night and to show the time for seasons, special days, and years. I command them to shine on the earth.” And that’s what happened. God made two powerful lights, the brighter one to rule the day and the other to rule the night. He also made the stars. Then God put these lights in the sky to shine on the earth, to rule day and night, and to separate light from darkness. God looked at what he had done, and it was good. Evening came and then morning—that was the fourth day.
In many ways it could be said that astrophycisists and cosmologists are the rock-and-roll of the 21st Century.  Hollywood blockbusters are made about their lives (Stephen Hawking) and they infest BBC radio four (yes, I mean you, Professor Brian Cox!).  They may have a more rigorous scientific method than the author(s) of Genesis, but owing the the mind-bendingly vast nature of the topic of study (the universe) – they only know a TINY fraction more than the author of Genesis ever did!  Of course, to be fair, they freely admit this – they have no idea what MOST of the universe is made of or how it started.  They cope with their ignorance far better than religion ever did!

We love cosmologists and astrophysicists – we invite them to explain massively complex things and as they try to do it we sit back either nodding sagely pretending we have the faintest idea what they are talking about, or we throw up our hands in the air and proclaim that it is all to impossible to grasp – which, to be fair, it is!
I don’t think it is going too far to suggest that they are performing a role that Priests, Theologians and incredibly brainy Greek Philosophers once performed – trying to articulate something sensible to say about a VAST truth that we are aware of and intrigued by but will never fully grasp; trying to help us understand how we might sensibly respond to the sheer scale and vastness (and also the tiny-ness!) of the universe we inhabit.

On the whole (with notable exceptions), cosmologists and astrophysicists are humble about what they know and are quick to point out that the thing we discover most is that there is yet more that we don’t know!

Of course (often with good reason) theologians and priests and philosophers are laughed at now when they try to discuss cosmology – they are the old rock-and-roll – they have had their day…  cosmologists and astrophysicists should enjoy their moment in the sun, the world will eventually grow tired of them and look elsewhere for answers.  (This has already begun in that in some circles, not least the White House, scientific “expertise” about the world which used to be respected is now routinely dismissed and ignored, and “alternative truth” held up as an equally valid response – see Climate Change!)

It is often said that scientists and theologians (like the authors of Genesis) can live side-by-side because they are doing different things and asking different questions.  I get that to a point – it’s true, but I would still argue that in a fairly essential way they are doing exactly the same thing – looking out into the vast blackness of space and asking – “who are we?”

Of course it’s the Psalmist who asks this question most clearly:

“When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers,
the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;

What is man, that thou art mindful of him?”

                                                                                                                                        (Psalm 8, KJV)

I’m not 100% sure I know what the consensus answer to this question IS from the cosmologists and astrophysicists, nor if I would understand it if I heard it!  But I DO know what the answer of the Bible is.

In the context of this unimaginably vast universe where we might be tempted to feel like tiny specks of insignificant space-dust, God declares that we are each infinitely precious, that we are loved and that we are known.  I think, deep down, that’s what we all need to know.