Paul’s first letter to the Confusions

[This is an extract of a letter that was recently found down the back of a sofa and which I have ‘translated’. Its authenticity has yet to be established.]

To the Christians in Confusia

Gravy and peas to you all. [The exact translation of this sentence is unclear].

I’m writing to you because it has come to my attention that there’s a lot of misunderstanding among you about some things I’ve written to other churches and some of the things Jesus said. So let’s ignore what I said about churches being a temple of the Holy Spirit or the Body of Christ. And ignore what Jesus said about being salt and light. Those have clearly not resonated with you. Here’s a new metaphor for you.

You are the fortress of God. You should pull up the drawbridge and prepare for a siege. Get ready to lob lots of steaming [the precise translation of the next word is uncertain] from behind your high walls at the people who come into range. Expect some retaliation from them but don’t worry: that should just confirm to you that you’re doing church right.

Occasionally you should organise raiding parties to go out into the surrounding area and see who you can capture. Once you’ve dragged them back inside the walls of your castle make sure you indoctrinate them well.

When going on raids put on your armour, sit on high horses and denounce anyone you meet from up on your high horses. Don’t forget to disinfect thoroughly at the end of the raid and measure your success by the amount of negative feedback you generated: the more the better.

It’s a good idea to create your own language so that people outside won’t understand you. If they don’t know what you’re saying you can’t be blamed if they misunderstand you.

Even though some of you may have to live or work outside the walls of the fortress on no account should those people try to engage with the people around them on their own. Safety in numbers! Don’t let anyone know you belong to the fortress.

If some of the more misguided of you feel that you really ought to be engaged with the wider community then focus your efforts on being nice people rather than actually talking to them about how much God loves them and who Jesus is. Polish your Spiritual armour (see the letter I wrote to the Ephesians for more about that) and work on the basis that people will want to join the fortress because of how shiny you are. Keep the sword of the Spirit well-hidden when outside.

In conclusion, my dear Confusions, keep your defences up and your heads down. That way you won’t be bothered too much by the people around you.

Yours entirely ironically

Paul.

do the hokey votey: in, out, or shake it all about?

X In CheckboxIt was an election day yesterday. I had the opportunity to put my kiss* on a piece of paper to declare my democratic love for a local council candidate and some candidates for the European Parliament.

I was surprised when I was handed the ballot paper for the European Parliament to see just how long it was. They almost had to give it to me as a scroll! Alongside the traditional mainstream parties were some new parties, some single issue parties, some extremist parties, and some parties I have never heard of before. We’ll have to wait until Sunday before we find out who has won as the rest of Europe is still voting in their own European Parliamentary elections.

But based on the local election results so far there is an expectation that the UK Independence Party (UKIP) will have done well. I am not going to tell you exactly who received my electoral love* (it was one of the older established parties) but the long list got me wondering. And the success of UKIP in local elections crystallised my wondering into pondering:

Is it just me, or do you see the irony of a party that was founded to get the UK out of Europe sending candidates to participate in the European Parliament – the very organ of democracy they want us to leave? How can you be engaged in the EU if you don’t want to be a part of it?

And that’s when it hit me. That’s just like the way that some Christians see ‘the world’. They see it as inherently evil: to be shunned, avoided, and only engaged with at arm’s length. They see it as something to come out of and withdraw from. They see it as something that will tarnish them.

But that’s not what I see Jesus doing when I read the gospels. In fact, I see him doing exactly the opposite. He throws himself in headfirst. He engages with and confronts evil. He seeks to undermine and destroy injustice. He affirms the poor, the vulnerable, the marginalised. He criticises the religious people who want to withdraw. He goes all out to affirm (as Genesis 1 does) that God’s world is inherently good. Yes, it is no longer as he intended it. Yes we can see evil things happening and evil people at large. But God’s idea, embodied in Jesus, is to redeem and renew his world not to abandon it.

Jesus came into the world not to bring us out of it but to shake it all about so it could be more like God planned it to be, and one day that work will be complete. He asks us to get involved in that process today. What might that look like?

Be blessed, be a blessing

*X

Biblical puns

Parking Meter

“Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.” This quip is attributed to businessman Robert C.Gallagher. It is clever because of the play on the word ‘change’ and because most of us have been frustrated by vending machines.

If you have explored my blog you will know that I love wordplay. Last night I had the joy of seeing Milton Jones onstage and hearing him deliver some brilliant wordplay coupled with superb comic timing. In case you are likely to go and see him on tour I won’t share any of his jokes with you at this point, although I can’t guarantee I would mention some of them in the future.

There’s actually some clever wordplay in the Bible as well. In the Old Testament when Samson vanquished his enemies armed only with a donkey’s jawbone he quipped, “With a donkey’s jawbone I have made asses of them.” (Judges 15:16) To add insult to injury (literally) he renamed the place Jawbone Hill.

Jesus renamed his impulsive and somewhat flaky disciple, calling him “Peter” which means ‘rock’. Whilst we may well affirm with the ability to see his future recorded in the book of Acts, when Jesus told him that he was the rock on which he would build his church I imagine the rest of the disciples were sniggering behind their hands. it was an ironic name on a par with Robin Hood’s larger-than-life friend Little John.

I get the feeling that sometimes when we read how God feels about us we think he is using wordplay or being ironic. Does he really think we are “beloved”? Can he really call us “friend” or even his children? Remember, this is God we’re talking about here. He has created and sustains the whole universe and yet cherishes each one of us, knowing us all by name and knowing everything about us (go on, insert your own joke here about him knowing the number of hairs on my head).

And if that was not enough, he loves us with an unquenchable and inexhaustible love. Perhaps the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16, tells us the depth of God’s love for us and what he has done to reconcile us to himself. To quote a famous brand of cosmetics he would say, “Because you’re worth it.”

Be blessed, be a blessing

Here are a few more puns for you:

Do bakers in the Army go into battle all buns glazing?

A friend went for a job as a gold prospector, but it didn’t pan out.

Dead batteries are free of charge.

Another friend was a monorail enthusiast: he had a one track mind.

The local Catholic church has just bought a minibus to bring people to services. they call it mass transport.

I can hear you screaming, so I will stop there.

 

irony, ironically.

Jesus could not believe that his followers had got it wrong again

Irony is wonderful. I love it. The problem is that it does not work too well in written text, which is probably the cause of a lot of misunderstandings.

As I cleared out the spam comments on this blog I noticed one that seemed ironic in the extreme. It was a spam comment that was advertising a product to reduce spam comments. Genius! Clearly because that comment got through, I need a spam comment filter. But if they did not send that spam comment my need for a spam comment filter would be reduced a bit.

It got me wondering whether there are other ways in which people create demand for their products with their products. I suppose adverts on telly for energy companies might be an example as we are consuming energy in order to watch the ad. Perhaps more ironic are ads that tell us to conserve energy. I like the irony of the global conferences on climate change – to which world leaders and their entourages all fly in planes that apparently contribute to the problem.

How can churches do the same? Perhaps we could put something outside our church that could be stolen and then if someone gives in to the temptation and steals it they find that it is chained to the wall and behind it is a message saying that grace and forgiveness are available inside.

I have heard street preachers tell people that they are sinners, worthless, unlovely and then when they are feeling low they say, “But God loves you.” Aaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrgh!

I don’t see Jesus creating demand in that way. People came to him because they saw love and acceptance, they were not judged or condemned, they found grace, joy, peace, laughter, life.

As a free sample of Jesus, is that what people are getting from me today?

Be blessed, be a blessing