Bryan Adams or Meat Loaf?

I was watching a Top of the Pops 1991 television programme* recently and they played Bryan Adams’s ballad Everything I do, I do it for you. The song spent 16 consecutive weeks at Number 1 in the UK chart, still the longest ever run. It’s a song I loved when it was released in 1991 and still love now.

As I listened to it again and watched the video, I wondered whether the lyrics inspired the subsequent power ballad sung by Meat Loaf: I would do anything for love… but I won’t do that (released in 1993).

(Spoiler alert: the ‘that’ refers to being unfaithful, but I can never quite work out how you would be unfaithful to someone because you love them so much that you would do anything for them).

Both songs suggest that true love motivates us to act selflessly for the benefit of the one we love. Meat Loaf’s song apparently puts limits on that (leading to the silly denouement) while Bryan Adams’s song climaxes with the promise that “I’d die for you…”

These are profound promises and reveal the power of love (cue another power ballad, sung by Jennifer Rush). Love is one of the most powerful motivating forces in human experience, isn’t it? It’s much longer lasting than guilt, more inspiring than a sense of duty and comes from a much deeper place than fear.

Of course as an ordained wearer of a dog collar (non-canine variety, and as a nonconformist, only on special occasions) you’d expect me to wax lyrical about God’s love for us, and quote John 3:16. And of course I wholeheartedly believe that this is true. But what I have observed is that it seems that Christians have sometimes portrayed God’s love as more like Meat Loaf than Bryan Adams.

Huh?

What I mean is that sometimes the message churches have given about God’s love is that there are limits to it. There are some people who are excluded. I can already sense some of the Christians reading this drawing a deep breath ready to shout, “Surely not!” and others have fingers poised over their keyboards ready to denounce me, but before you do, please hear me out.

The first Church Meeting (Acts 15) was because some Christians were insisting that some people were excluded from the faith because they lacked the right heritage or did not follow the right rules (that meeting decided that this was wrong).

Some Christians actively endorsed (and profited from) the transatlantic slave trade and owning of slaves before abolition.

Some Christians actively supported ideologies that proclaimed that some people were subhuman (Nazi Germany, Apartheid South Africa).

Some Christians excluded women are from leadership or ministry in churches (but interestingly many have sent women as missionaries overseas to minister to others). Some still do.

Some Christians excluded people who are LGBT+ from their churches, or from full participation in them. Some still do.

And some who hold these views attack the integrity and validity of the faith of Christians who may be publicly more inclusive than they are (and I am bracing for impact myself after writing this).

You might say that some of these beliefs are not placing limits on God’s love but are examples of divine righteousness and purity. But it seems to me that God’s love always wins through – it’s God’s prime motivation because it’s God’s core essence. John 3:16 does not say that because God was righteous and pure that Jesus was sent… it was because God loved the world so much!

And you might say that this is not what people mean to say and that I am distorting what is actually being said. Perhaps. But my point is that regardless of what is being said, the message that is being received is that there is a limit on who God loves or how much he loves them.

I don’t deny that those who have held such views held them with conviction. However, in the gospels we see Jesus time and time again breaking through religious barriers to include in God’s Kingdom those whom people (who held those views with conviction) had excluded.

Were they placing limits on God’s love?

Did he need them to?

Did he want them to?

Does he want us to?

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

I offer Ephesians 3:14-21 as a prayerful response (with my added emphasis), remembering that this was written to a group of Christians:

14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

I pray it especially for myself.

Be blessed, be a blessing

*For those who are too young (or live in a different part of the world) TOTP was the music chart show that was on the BBC every week from 1964 to 2006.

rusty society

If you own a car you will know that one of the greatest enemies of the automotive conveyance is iron oxide… aka rust. It slowly, imperceptibly, gently corrodes the bodywork and chassis of a car and, if left untreated, eventually renders it unusable and fit only for the scrap heap.

rust pile metal junk material rubbish rubble waste junkyard trash dump iron garbage earthquake pollution recycling landfill heap scrap scrapyard scrap yard

And there is an emotion that I think is the human equivalent of rust. It can eat away at work relationships, friendships, families, whole communities and even a society as a whole if left untreated. What is this corrosive feeling?

Hate.

It undermines, it erodes confidence, it justifies bullying and violence and it has the potential to destroy.

I struggled initially to consider hate as an emotion, but I guess it is in that it is a emerges from our circumstances, our interactions with others and our moods. In itself it is as intangible as the chemical oxidation process that creates rust – you can see the effects of it but you can’t actually see hate happening. You can see it in someone’s face or eyes, hear it in their voice, see it in their actions, but you can’t see it on its own. And hate does not live in isolation. It needs something to feed off in order to exist. It needs a scapegoat, it needs a victim, it needs to be able to blame another person or indeed a whole culture. We don’t say, “I hate” we say “I hate [you/them/it]”.

I am concerned that it feels like there is an increase in hate in our society. You only have to surf social media to see how easily people react with hate to someone with whom they disagree or who has a different perspective to them. You only have to listen to the rhetoric of some politicians to hear hate very close to (or on) the surface as they blame ‘others’ for the ills of society (and if not hateful words in themselves they can be designed to incite hate in others). You only have to look at government statistics to see it: the number of hate crimes recorded by the police having more than doubled since 2012/13 (from 42,255 to 103,379 offences)*.

So what can be done about it? Surely there is some sort of societal rust treatment that we can apply.

You might think it is tolerance. And that can help slow down the slithering spread of hate, but it does not stop it completely. You see tolerance has a couple of flaws. First of all it is a value rather than an emotion so it works at a different level: I can tolerate something while still hating it. Secondly tolerance has its limits – tolerance cannot cope with intolerance and becomes intolerant of it. Someone who holds a view that is counter to the views of others and is not willing to tolerate them is unacceptable in a tolerant society (unless they are the majority – at which point tolerance is trumped by democracy).

You are probably well ahead of me here, but I think the treatment for the corrosiveness of hate is love. Not romantic, mushy love. Not erotic, sexual love. Not even familial love. The sort of love I think can counter hate is what the Bible calls ‘agape’ (an ancient Greek word you don’t find in many other places in ancient literature). ‘Agape’ is a love that wants the best for others. It sees the positives above any negatives. It blesses, encourages, includes and affirms.

It’s made famous by 1 Corinthians 13 that you may well have heard at a wedding:

13 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

The love described here is ‘agape’ love. And while it’s an emotion it’s also an intention, an attitude, a verb and a noun, and a lifestyle. If it is adopted in the form described above it has the ability to stop the spread of hate-rust, remove it and replace it with itself. Of course ‘agape’ also needs a subject, just as hate does. “I love” does not make sense but “I love [you/them/it]” does.

If it’s such a powerful weapon against hate why is it not employed more often? It’s the cost. True ‘agape’ costs a lot more than many people are willing to pay. It costs your self-centredness, it costs your win-at-all-costs ambition, it costs your pride and feelings of superiority, it can even cost your reputation and dignity. Why does it cost so much? Because you place others before yourself. You consider everyone else’s well-being and welfare before your own.

That sounds really costly doesn’t it? And it is if ‘agape’ is only expressed in pockets in a society. But imagine a society or organisation where everyone is motivated by ‘agape’! That sort of society does not have extremes of inequality, it does not have people on the margins, it does not have winners at the expense of losers. If everyone is seeking to live by ‘agape’ then it creates the sort of paradise that God intended the world to be. If you doubt me, read about God’s Jubilee plans in Leviticus 25 and you will see how that sort of society is God’s intention. (We get occasional glimpses of it (such as in the early church described in Acts 2) but it’s regrettably fleeting.

It’s what I believe church should be like. It doesn’t always happen because we are human and fallible, but it should be our ambition and intention that we become places where there is no place for hate because love wins. And if churches can come close to being communities of ‘agape’ then they will be close to being the free samples of Jesus that we are supposed to be because it’s exactly what God is like.

And it happens as we open ourselves up to being changed by God through prayer and reflection. It happens as we offer up our hate and ask him to treat it with ‘agape’. It happens when we reorder our lives and put him first, others second and ourselves third (recognising how amazing we will feel if everyone is doing the same).

Be blessed, be a blessing.

*It is suggested that this increase is due to improvements in crime reporting, but that seems to be a naive and unsubstantiated assumption. You can see my source here.

x = 10 10 10

Image result for thinker

Rene Descartes is thought to have nailed it when he said, “Je pense, donc je suis.” Or, in Latin: “Cogito ergo sum.” In English we translate it as: “I think, therefore I am.”

It’s really clever. I can prove I exist because I have consciousness and because I have consciousness I am able to prove I exist. It’s almost a circular argument along the lines of whether the chicken or the egg existed first, but the genius of Descartes is that he enables us to enter that circle by the way he phrased the statement.

There have been later developments of this…

“I’m pink, therefore I’m spam.”

“I stink, therefore I scram.”

“I drink, therefore a dram.”

“I sink, therefore I swam.”

(You may suspect that some of these are not so much ‘later developments’ as ‘hot off the press poor quality puns’, and you’d be right).

But while Monsieur Descartes’ ability to prove existence is quite incroyable it does seem a little bit, erm, limiting if all we do is exist. I wonder whether beyond ‘I think, therefore I am’ we ought to consider something like: “I love, therefore I live.”

Existence is all very well, but it’s a bit lonely on our own. To be in relationship with others is far more exhilarating and the pinnacle of a relationship is to love and be loved. Not a mushy romantic love; nor a passionate sexual love; not even a familial kinship love. But he sort of self-giving love that wants the best for others and is not based on feelings that can change or on what the other person has done for us but on an a sense of the innate value of others. In loving that way we become truly alive.

And because love does not exist without someone to love it demands relationships so we go beyond existence on our own and find community, fellowship, friendship, companionship, belonging and the joy of being known.

If that sounds good, then don’t be surprised because it’s what Jesus was saying nearly 2000 years ago! It’s the way that God loves us and enables us to love others. It’s the way to experience life in all its fullness. It’s what is described in 1 Corinthians 13.

The art is to put it into practice.

Be blessed, be a blessing

By the way, if you don’t understand the title, x is tens… existence


last minute decision

Stew the Rabbit may, or may not appear during the evening

Today I have had an epiphany.

It’s difficult isn’t it. When one section of society celebrates it can unintentionally alienate another.

So English people might celebrate a win at rugby or football or cricket and non-England supporters can feel left out.

Sport-lovers celebrated the Olympics and Paralympics last year and those who don’t like sport were left on the sidelines.

Halloween is celebrated with plastic vampire teeth and highway robbery (plastic teeth presumably needed to replace the normal teeth rotted by all the sweets acquired by the extortion) and those who prefer not to participate (or already have false teeth) can be made to feel like killjoys.

Valentines Day encourages those who are couples, or hope to be couples to celebrate their love while unintentionally excluding those who are single.

So, at the very last minute, following this epiphany, I have decided that since I am on my own this evening (Housegroup night for Sally) I fancy having a non-Valentines un-date with anyone else who would like to join me. If you would like to meet up this evening for an evening of sillyness, laughter and friendship that may or may not include magic tricks (depending on demand) please will you send me a message via facebook, email or text and we’ll do it.

Space is limited, so this is not an open invitation to everyone in Colchester: contacting me will result in me sending you an invitation and more details. Bring something to share.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

 

Love is… like a Bugatti Veyron!

Do you remember the ‘Love is…’ cartoons? They used to be in the paper and would have some sweet statement that related to the way a man and woman love each other. The example here has the caption: ‘Love is… not asking how much her new dress cost.’ You get the idea. (If you want to see lots of these, visit www.loveisfan.com). I suspect that the original idea for these cartoons came from the Bible – from the famous passage in 1 Corinthians 13 that describes love in different ways.

I have the joy of preaching on 1 Corinthians 13 on Sunday morning. That’s the chapter that is often read at weddings and funerals because it is such great poetic literature. I can understand why it is used in that way, but it’s a real shame if that’s all it’s ever used for. Kind of like having a Bugatti Veyron and keeping it in the garage to look at without ever driving it. (For the unitiated, that’s a Bugatti Veyron next to this paragraph – 16 cylinder engine, 1001 BHP, 253.5 mph, you get the idea – for lots of info for petrol-heads visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bugatti_Veyron).

I’m in the middle of preparing the sermon now (“So what are you doing blogging rather than writing the sermon?” I hear you shout) and am being blown away by the depth and impact of the passage. It’s a high octane ride all right. It revs loud and clear at you from the first words to the last and takes your breath away.

You shouted at me a moment ago, asking why I am blogifying not sermonising. I am about to put pedal to the metal, but before I do I needed to stop and regain my composure because it’s so exhilirating. The only problem I can foresee is that there is so much in the passage that we may need a very long sermon. Those from my church who read this before Sunday morning have been warned. 

Vrooom, vrooom!