Monday, December 12, 2005

Ordination and Priesthood

Here's a little piece I rattled off for my vocations advisor about my understanding of ordination and priesthood:

Over the last few years I have given considerable thought to the nature of leadership within the church and particularly the question of ordained public ministry. Here I will attempt to give a brief overview of the development of my thought and my current understanding of ordained ministry. I will begin with some of my initial reservations, then look at my current understanding of the ‘doing’ and ‘being’ of priesthood. I am aware that there are huge debates over the nature of priesthood, leadership and authority within the church, and many books have been written on the subject. I will offer here a brief personal reflection based on my limited current understanding which will inevitably only scratch the surface of a huge subject.

Initial Reservations

When I began my theology degree, 3 years ago, I began to examine the concept of ordained, full time ministry. Within the Vineyard movement to which I belonged there was a strong emphasis on the ‘equipping of the saints’ for the work of ministry. The role of leadership was to help people to discover their own gifts and release them within the church and the world to use those gifts for the mission of God. I was and am a firm believer in the priesthood of all believers and was therefore nervous of the concept of a special class of ‘priests’ who might be considered to be ‘super-saints’. Didn’t we all have access to God now through our man in heaven, our great high-priest Jesus Christ? Did we need a set of intermediaries to act as a go-between for us and God? Wasn’t the idea of priesthood a resurrection of an old covenant category?
I was concerned about a divide between clergy and laity whereby the clergy are expected (by themselves or others) to perform the real tasks of ministry and the laity are basically passive recipients. I also felt that is was unrealistic to expect one person to combine the roles of pastor, teacher, evangelist, administrator, worship leader etc, etc.
I now see that most of my reservations came either from a faulty understanding of Christian priesthood or from (real or perceived) historical abuses of that role.

My Current Understanding

I began to realise that despite my egalitarian tendencies, God does “set apart” certain people in order to serve the church. Initially I thought in pragmatic terms. Someone needs to prepare services, and pray for people and pastor them and visit the sick etc, etc and if these things are going to be done well, then it is better to have some people who are dedicated to the tasks. I have seen how difficult it is for people to be bi-vocational and feel that they are not able to do either job to the best of their ability. I am still suspicious of a one-man band model of priesthood and feel that part of a priest’s role must be to be a facilitator, someone who equips and enables others to live out their calling within the church and the world.

I like what Archbishop Rowan Williams says about the role of priests in forming communities:

“Communities, in spite of the sentimental way we sometimes think of them, don’t just happen. They need nurture, they need to be woven into unity (more of that in a moment). If the unity of the Church is not that of a mass of individuals with a few convictions in common but that of a differentiated organism where the distinctiveness of each is always already in play, then for the Church to be consciously itself, it needs people to see and show how diversity works together. Sometimes this is a role of active co-ordination, drawing out gifts and deploying them, sometimes it is helping some people see that what others do is bound up with what they themselves do.”(1)

Many people are suspicious of an authoritarian, hierarchical structure of leadership whereby there is a ‘chain of command’ a bit like an army, although I don’t believe the Church of England really operates this way, it is sometimes perceived to. In contrast to this I prefer the picture of a conductor of an orchestra as a model of priesthood. The conductor’s job is to know the piece of music inside out, (which includes being familiar with the composer), so that he can hear how it should sound in his head. The players can look at him in order to know when they should come in and how loud to play etc. He must then listen to the different instruments that are playing and conduct them to play together so that they make a beautiful sound and not a cacophony!

I have come to see that in addition to the ‘pragmatic’ side of priesthood (what a priest does), there is also an ‘ontological’ aspect to priesthood (what a priest is). God “sets apart” men and women to be certain things within the church, these include :

A servant. First and foremost, an ordained minister, whether a deacon or priest, is called to be a servant. He or she is a servant of God, a servant of the church and a servant of those in the parish in which he/she ministers. Jesus’ footwashing of the disciples is the obvious model which springs to mind. Not that a priest is to be a doormat who is always at the beck and call of everyone in the church, but for a significant amount of his/her time they are to be “available”, available to God and available to others. The only kind of authority which is appropriate within the church is that which is administered with humility.

A priest is called to be a witness who through his or her words and life is a symbol within the community of what the whole community is called to be. People should be able to learn more of the character and mission of Christ by observing the priest. This is indeed a high calling! It is one in which failures are inevitable, otherwise the priest would not be human. Nevertheless, the priest is called to watch their life and doctrine closely. A priest within the Church of England is not only a symbol within the church, but to all those in his parish who are not necessarily members of the church. He thereby represents not only Christ, but the church as well.

A person of prayer. As Michael Ramsay wrote, a priest is ‘to be with God with the people on our heart’(2). A priest is called to a life of prayer. Prayer for all those within his/her care and prayer to sustain his own relationship with God out of which he/she ministers. This again is extremely challenging and is an area that I know I need to grow in.

A minister of the Word. A priest is called to dwell within the biblical story from creation to new creation, so that it shapes their entire worldview, and so that they can make it come alive to people in a fresh and exciting way and show people their place within the story. They are called to preach the gospel in all its glorious fullness.

A minister of sacrament. A priest will stay close to Christ through the eucharist and will administer and help people to understand this sacrament. He/she also has the privilege of baptising people into God’s church. I must admit this is one area where I need to gain a deeper understanding of the priest’s role. Having enjoyed the breaking of bread with friends in people’s homes on many occasions I am yet to see why only an ordained minister can ‘preside’ over this celebration. It is probably in order to protect the ‘specialness’ of the Lord’s table, and not want it watering down, but I am convinced that a priest is not meant to be a ‘policeman’ of the table. I also still need to deepen my awareness of baptism as a sacrament and the priest’s role in this.

This is only really a start and there is much more that could be said. I look forward to reading around the subject and increasing my understanding of Christian priesthood.

1. R. Williams, ‘The Christian Priest Today’: Lecture on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Ripon College, Cuddesdon, Fri. 28th May 2004 -
2. M. Ramsay, The Christian Priest Today’, SPCK, London, 1972, 14

Meeting Place

On a Tuesday night, Suzy and I help out at a community meal held at the Salvation Army building in town called 'meeting place'. The aim is to provide a place where people can come for friendship, conversation, a cheap meal and an evening in out of the cold. I think I blogged about it before - here, here, and here. Anyway, here are some photos of one evening. It looks like a bit of a quiet one, but usually we have between 40 and 50 guests.

Monday, November 28, 2005

My Journey of Faith and Calling

Here's the piece I wrote for my vocations adviser to tell him my story.


I was born into a Christian family in 1974. My paternal Grandma was a lifelong Anglican and my maternal Grandparents were Methodists. Upon moving to Nuneaton after their marriage, my parents joined Manor Court Baptist church which was the church that I grew up in. Although I cannot remember a time when I didn’t believe, I made a prayer of commitment, ‘giving my life to the Lord’, at the age of nine. I had a quiet but serious, childlike faith, being fully involved in Sunday school, bible studies and the young peoples’ fellowship. I was baptised at Manor Court Baptist shortly after my fifteenth birthday.

In my later teens however, and especially upon going to university, I allowed my faith to take a bit of a slide. I found the Christian Union to be cliquey and never really settled into a church. Although I never stopped believing, my lifestyle didn’t really match up to what I claimed to believe. I had a lot of ‘fun’ during this period, but on the inside I was hurting. I felt hypocritical and directionless.

Coming home

A major turning point came in 1997. During this year I had the opportunity to take two trips which were to be very significant. The first was to Israel. As I visited the various holy sites, staying in the old city of Jerusalem and spending time in the Galilee, I was reminded of the reality of the historical events upon which our faith is based. I began to think seriously again about my own life and beliefs. The second trip was to California. My uncle had invited me and (my then girlfriend) Su to go and stay with him in Simi Valley, Los Angeles. He had one condition on us staying with him – that we attended his church while we were there. Bearing in mind that Su wasn’t a Christian at this point, and had never been to church, I was not exactly enamoured with the prospect of going to a 4000 strong, American Pentecostal church. Not only that, but I knew that my Uncle was involved in the ‘healing and deliverance’ ministry of his church, what I at the time considered to be the lunatic fringe. I feared that this visit could put Su off Christianity for the rest of her life!

I needn’t have worried. We visited several meetings, and sure enough, weird and wonderful things happened. We experienced powerful times of worship, heard people praying in tongues, testimonies of healings and were given words of personal prophecy which hit home. But rather than being put off, Su was intrigued and wanted to know more. Over the period of 3 weeks we both felt God speaking to us in various different ways. I knew I had some serious repenting to do, and Su began to take an interest in the claims of Christ and the things of God for the first time.

When we got back to England I knew that the first thing we had to do was find a church to become a part of. The following week I was walking on the University of Birmingham campus when up walked some strangers offering me a free chocolate bar as a small token of God’s love for me. Never one to turn down free chocolate I accepted their gift and a card which explained that they belonged to South Birmingham Vineyard church. We visited the church the following Sunday and have never really looked back. The next week Su heard the gospel preached and made a commitment to Christ. We were both incredibly excited at what God was doing in our lives.

At the time the Vineyard church was exactly what I needed. The times of sung worship were heartfelt and intimate, with a strong sense of God’s presence. Here was a group of young people, all around my age, who were passionate about Jesus and real with each other. They were down to earth, non-religious and didn’t take themselves too seriously. They also believed in ‘doing the stuff’ and that ‘everybody gets to play’ to use two of John Wimber’s phrases. These people didn’t just talk about healing the sick, they prayed for people and expected God to heal. They didn’t just talk about God speaking to us today, they listened to Him and attempted to follow what they heard him saying. They went out onto the streets of Birmingham and befriended the poor and helped to feed and clothe them. They literally ‘practiced’ what they preached. We got fully involved with the life of the church, joining a ‘kinship’ group, helping to lead an Alpha course and serving on the church’s ministry to homeless people.

My coming back to God was so powerful and life changing. I truly felt like I had been given a second chance, a fresh start. I vowed that I would serve God for the rest of my life, going wherever he wanted me to go and doing whatever he wanted me to do. It was at this time that I began to feel that perhaps God was calling me to serve Him vocationally and that this wouldn’t necessarily be within the electronic and software engineering field that I had trained for.
I also felt I had some catching up to do in terms of my knowledge of the bible and theology. Being an avid reader I explored the theology of the Vineyard movement thoroughly. Amongst other aspects, I found their understanding of the ‘now’ and ‘not yet’ of the Kingdom of God, as espoused by George Eldon Ladd to be incredibly helpful.

Church Planting

When Su and I got married in 1999, we were faced with a decision – to remain in Birmingham as a part of the large and established South Birmingham Vineyard church or to move to Coventry, where I was working, to get involved with a new church plant. Although we were not too keen on the idea of moving to Coventry to start with, God spoke to us both in a number of ways over several months leading us here. As part of a new church plant it was a case of ‘all hands on deck’, and we soon got involved in various forms of ministry within the church including leading worship, leading small groups, running Alpha courses, servant evangelism, preaching, teaching and being part of the core leadership team. Church planting has had its ups and downs, its joys and frustrations, with many mistakes made and lessons learnt. Over the course of the last 6 years the church has grown from a core of around 6 (of whom we were 2) to around 75 people.

After 2 or 3 years of working as a software engineer I was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with my job. At first I was able to cope with it by seeing my real purpose as church planting and my day job as a kind of ‘tent-making’ role, which paid the bills and enabled me to do the church stuff. It became clear over time though that I couldn’t see myself being a software engineer for the rest of my life.

When the company’s fortunes took a downturn and they started to offer voluntary redundancy I thought this might be an opportunity to explore a different direction. We initially looked into doing some short-term overseas mission for a year or so. I applied for redundancy but was turned down as I was considered to have a key role in the project I was working on. Frustratingly, all of the doors I pushed on in terms of going away turned out to be closed. I persevered at work for another year or so, all the time thinking and praying about what God might want me to do. I eventually realised that what I wanted to do more than anything was to go and spend some time at bible college to get a deeper theological grounding. I applied for voluntary redundancy and to Birmingham Christian College and this time was successful with both applications. The idea was to go and do a year studying theology and use this year as an opportunity to explore my calling.


I loved my first year at bible college. Not only was it an immense privilege to be able to immerse oneself in God’s word, I found the academic study of theology to be intellectually and spiritually stimulating. During this year I had an increasing sense that God might be calling me into a full time ministry along the lines of a pastor/teacher. I guess at first I was waiting for a ‘bolt out of the blue’ voice from God to confirm my calling, but rather than receiving this I just had a growing desire to spend my life ministering the word of God and the love of God to people, helping them to grow as disciples of Jesus. I remember being struck once as I read 1 Timothy 3:1, ‘If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer he desires a noble task’. I realised that I was setting my heart on that task and that this itself could be God’s way of calling me, rather than waiting around for ‘Road to Damascus’ type experience. I also remember sitting in the canteen one time and being moved to tears as I considered what an amazing privilege it was to serve God and people in this way. I had some initial reservations about ‘ordained’ ministry, however. Being a firm believer in the priesthood of all believers and ‘every member’ ministry, I was concerned that having paid, ordained ministers could perpetuate a divide between clergy and laity whereby the clergy are expected to do the ‘proper’ ministry and the laity becomes increasingly inactive and nominal. Nevertheless, I saw that both Christ and Paul taught that ‘a worker deserves his wages’ and I came to see that an ordained minister could be a symbol of what the whole people of God should be.

One year of bible college became two, which then became a full three year degree. I really enjoyed my college work, especially New Testament studies, which has become something of a passion. I managed to attain a 1st class honours degree, something which I trust will stand me in good stead for my future ministry.

Church of England

Upon telling people that I am joining the Church of England and pursuing ordained ministry within that church I have received puzzled looks from some people. Why would someone leave a growing, exciting church that is full of young people to join an institution that is (in their opinion) staid, outdated, formal, bloated and tearing itself apart (and some of these voices have been from members of the CofE!)?

It began around 4 years ago when I started to read Tom Wright, who is now Bishop of Durham. As well as being one of the most exciting New Testament scholars in the world, he is also one of the best apologists for the Church of England. Time and time again, when he has said ‘in the tradition to which I belong we…’ he has gone on to say something which has made such a lot of sense and has really resonated with me. I began to notice certain things that had perhaps been overlooked or thrown out of some of the newer churches including the Vineyard movement.

I have felt an increasing sense of wanting to feel connected to both the historical church and the wider body of Christ, what might be called the communion of the saints. As Protestantism has become increasingly fragmented, with more and more denominations, movements and splinter groups, it is easy to lose sight of the wider church and to feel somewhat isolated and free-floating. My understanding of the Church of England is that, whilst obviously having a significant point of departure in the post-reformation period of Tudor England, it had no creeds of its own, only those of the united Church of the first five centuries.

Another area where I have felt drawn towards certain aspects of the CofE is in worship. Whilst I have loved the songs of the Vineyard, there comes a point when one is left wanting more within a worship gathering. Informality can become an idol just as much as ritualism can, and the pressure to be spontaneous can end up feeling restrictive. Paradoxically, I have found the use of liturgy to be freeing and powerful. I have seen how the use of the church calendar and the lectionary can be used to find one’s place within the Christian story, helping a community to look at the different aspects of Christ’s life and the whole biblical story rather than focusing on a few key texts. I have also had an increasing sense of the importance of the eucharist within worship and have found this to be celebrated in a profoundly meaningful way within several CofE settings.

I believe that the public nature of the Church of England, being the state church, whilst obviously presenting it’s own problems, also presents huge opportunities for the mission of God. Whether through local schools, community events or rites of passage it would seem to have outward-facing possibilities that many churches don’t have. I used to be concerned about the ‘establishment’ aspect of the CofE but have noticed that it hasn’t stopped Archbishop Williams from speaking out on the Iraq war and that it may present opportunities to speak out on matters of social justice that smaller ‘independent’ churches don’t have.

The Vineyard movement in the UK actually has some strong links with parts of the Church of England. When Wimber first came over in the 1980’s it was largely with Anglicans that he hit it off e.g. David Watson and David Pytches. In some ways I see parallels with the Methodist movement, like Wesley (the lifelong Anglican), Wimber never intended to start a new denomination in this country but believed in renewing the existing church. Whilst many Anglicans left and joined new Vineyard fellowships there were many that stayed and are now involved in some of the most thriving CofE congregations e.g. St. Andrews, Chorleywood, St. Thomas Crookes, Sheffield, Holy Trinity Brompton, St. Aldates, Oxford etc etc. The New Wine network and conferences, Soul Survivor and Alpha are all examples of the relationship between the Church of England and Vineyard theology and praxis.

On the other hand, many within what gets called ‘the emerging church’ are dissatisfied with certain aspects of the modern church and are looking to explore older spiritualities whether Catholic, Eastern Orthodox or Celtic. I believe the Anglican church may be ideally placed to provide the deeper spirituality and holistic worship that people are hungry for.

There is much more I could say about my journey towards Anglicanism and my desire to pursue ordination. I am not one for moving churches, let alone denominations, on a whim and have given this move significant thought and prayer. Obviously there is only so much one can appreciate from the outside and I look forward to continuing this process within the Church of England.
I am not unaware of the tensions and challenges that the Anglican communion faces, but I actually believe this may be an exciting time for the church, and with people like Rowan Williams, Tom Wright and John Sentamu around I am hopeful for the future.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

church stuff

Coventry Vineyard has been encouraging recently. After what seems a long time of being around 20 people and wondering if we will ever be more than 20 people (not that there is anything wrong with being a church of 20 people), this term we have regularly had upwards of 60 people at our Sunday gatherings, with new people every week. It is getting difficult to keep up with all the new people who have been coming along. We have 3 growing housegroups, none of which are led by us, having recently handed over our group to Pete and Hayley. The church is getting involved in lots of outreach projects, spending the first Sunday of each month doing church on the streets, picking litter, raking leaves, doing peoples gardens as well as our recent housegroup decorating project and a winter sunshine children’s party. Coventry Vineyard has recently teamed up with St. John’s Westwood church for a combined 24/7 prayer initiative in the month of November. People have been praying around the clock, 24/7 (well, almost), for four weeks. Awesome stuff, and very exciting to see what God is doing. So, the question is, why are we moving on?

For some time now, probably since I began studying for my theology degree (and reading Tom Wright) I have had - what I call - ‘strange yearnings’ for aspects of the Anglican church. To some people this might seem like a strange move, but to me it feels like it has been growing inside for a while and it makes a lot of sense. Combine this with an increasing sense of being called into full-time, vocational ministry, and I have decided to explore and pursue ordination within the Church of England. Yes, I want to be a vicar! To this end, we have been attending Holy Trinity in Coventry and I have started the ball rolling in the long process of applying for ordination. Obviously such a huge decision is not to be rushed and, the church of England being what it is, there is no chance of that. I have been meeting with a ‘vocations advisor’, the Rev’d John Burrell a vicar in Lighthorne. He is a wonderful man, and has been very receptive of where I’m coming from. Yesterday, Su and I were confirmed at Coventry Cathedral with 200 other people between the ages of 8 and 80. It was an awesome service which is worthy of a blog of its own. This evening we helped out with a ‘darkness to light’ service for the start of Advent at Holy Trinity, a truly EPIC service which is also worthy of it’s own explanation blog. In short, big changes are afoot which are both exciting and a bit daunting. Next, a little piece I had to write for my vocations advisor about my journey so far.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Catching Up

Wow, where did those three weeks go? Busyness has conspired against me blogging once again. We have had a hectic, but fun few weeks. Since Su's birthday weekend, we have had about 1 evening in. So what have we been up to?

Firstly, there are my day jobs. I continue to work for Professor John Hull over at the Queen's Foundation in Birmingham. I enjoy this work, if you can call it work. I basically help John out around the office, reading his paper mail, writing documents, doing a bit of research, either on the internet or in the library and making his coffee. It's hardly taxing, and it gives me time to think and read as well. It is an amazing experience to work with someone so brilliant and I enjoy the challenge of engaging with someone who is coming from a very different theological standpoint to me. My other job is also very enjoyable, but couldn't be more different. Two years ago, I worked as a chimney sweep as a summer job. I honestly think it is the most fun job I'd ever had. When I went back to college, the work kind of fizzled out and I lost touch a bit with Colin, the sweep. In my recent jobhunting, (with some nudging from Su), I decided to email Colin on the off chance that he had any work on. I got an email straight back saying that it was amazing timing, because he had just that day been awarded a new council contract, and was scratching his head trying to think how on earth he could cope with the workload. So for the last couple of months I have been bombing around the villages of South Warwickshire in a little red van, and have swept 165 chimneys! I love it. I get to meet lots of people, from all walks of life, living in council houses or mansions. I do real work, which keeps me fit and gives me a nice warm glow in my muscles at the end of the day. I see some of the nicest parts of the country that are on my doorstep, and I get to drink lots of cups of tea. It's flexible work, and pays reasonably well. It is the ideal thing to do while I explore the next stage of my life, more of which later.

"Chim-chimney, chim-chimney, chim chim cheree, a sweep is as lucky, as lucky can be". I'm available for weddings by the way.

Next - what's going on with us, churchwise.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

su's birthday weekend

Just a quick blog from the Apple store on Regent's Street. We are in London to celebrate Su's birthday, and amongst all the girly shops that we are required to go to, I get to come here to keep me happy. This afternoon I am taking Su to watch The Lion King which should be fun. Better be off now

Monday, October 24, 2005

Blogging Friends

A couple of weeks ago we had some new friends over to lunch. Michael Pahl is finishing of a PhD at Birmingham University, he also has a New Testament sudies type blog here. He is also teaching the gospel of John at my old college, BCC, a bit like Michael Strickland, the first anglo-file, who now blogs here (yes, that is what he really looks like) and who introduced us. Michael came over to Coventry on the train with his wife Larissa and his kids Matthew, Michael and Amelia (they have an official family website here (and I find it hard to keep one blog up to date!). The Pahls are from Alberta, Canada which is one of my favourite places on earth (especially Banff, where I would give my right arm to live). Now, Canadians, like all North Americans, are easy to please. You just show them some old stuff. Like buildings that are 7 or 8 times older than their home town, stuff that we Brits walk past everyday without batting an eyelid. Anyway, Michael has written up his trip in a much more interesting and informative way than I ever could here. It was fun to have his family over for lunch and get to know them a bit. We are hoping to be able to take them to Oxford or somewhere at some point in November.
Not wishing to indulge in national stereotypes but I'm yet to meet an unpleasant Canadian. They're the Americans it's ok to like. (only kidding, Strickland). Michael (Strickland) speculated that they are 40% American(US variety), 30% English and 30% unique but I wouldn't dare say they are that high in US content. I definitely wouldn't say that they talk like Americans, spell like Brits and smell like nothing else, which Strickland also said (and told me to tell you, Michael P).

Another friend, Doug, has started blogging here. If it's anything like his real life verbal diarrhea he will be quite prolific but fairly insubstantial. So far it's been quite quiet though. He is, however, doing better than my brother-in-law, whose token effort at blogging was frankly pathetic.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

My iBirthday

On the 1st October I celebrated my 31st birthday. How scary is that? Well, not as scary as I found my 30th. I seem to remember dreading the day and then going into a depression for at least 2 weeks after my party. Looking at the archives it looks like I didn't blog for about 2 months (ok, nothing unusual there). Well I've got used to the being old thing and this year was a lot easier to cope with (although Su did accuse me of going through a mid-life crisis when I bought a pink shirt for my birthday meal).

The blow of getting another year older was softened somewhat by the present I bought myself, a 60GB iPod. Now, before anyone accuses me of being an extravagent consumer, the only reason I was able to get one was due to some inheritance money I received when my Grandma died a couple of months ago. For about 5 minutes, a thought about doing something sensible with the money, like paying off some of the mortgage, but Dad told me to get something I really wanted. So I's what she would have wanted! The opportunity of my sister going on a trip to New York was just to good to miss. I course, whenever you by an Apple product, they come out with a new version a couple of weeks later. Oh well, I'm chuffed to bits with mine. Most of my other birthday presents were related to this little white box of tricks. Su bought me a docking station, Rachel and Karl bought me a case and I bought an AV cable with some money from Mum and Dad - so I can bore people to death with slideshows on their own TVs. An extra special treat came courtesy of Su's mum and Geoff. Geoff phoned me a couple of days before my birthday to ask if I could pick him up an iSight camera for him. I was planning to go on my birthday anyway to pick up some accessories so it was no problem to get him one. When I took it to him, he wrote me a cheque and handed me back the iSight and said Happy Birthday! (a joint birthday present with su). I had no clue. Now I can have video iChats with my sister and anyone else who wants to see my ugly mug whilst talking to me, tres cool.

'Every good and perfect gift comes from above' James 1:17. Now all Apple products fall somewhere between good and perfect, the iPod is nearer the latter... so thankyou Father, and everyone else, for my pressies, sometimes I think I must be the most blessed person alive.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

New Archbishop Speaks of His Experience of Racism

This is very sad. Unfortunately, not too surprising, but as maggi dawn says, still disgraceful.

Monday, October 10, 2005


I want to get back into blogging again. I say I want to, but everytime I think about sitting down and doing it I'm struck by a disabling sense of apathy. I usually have a list of things in my head that I'd like to blog about but often leave it until it's too late and the stuff seems irrelevant. I think part of the problem is I've lost sight of why I'm blogging. It was easy when I knew no-one read the blog, I'd just write about my day like -I'm going in the back garden now to eat my breakfast and read a book- but now I'm aware that people (ok, only a handful of people) read it, I think I feel the pressure to be interesting or funny or current in some way. This is why for ages I avoided trying to find out who read the blog, because I didn't want to become obsessed with statistics of who reads or subscribes to my blog. Don't get me wrong, I love it when people leave comments and enjoy the interaction that sometimes follows but I don't want to write with particular people in mind. I think from now on, I'll pretend that noone reads the blog and just write any old drivel as and when I feel like it. Which begs the question, why have a public blog, why not just keep a private journal? Good question. I think it's because I'm generally rubbish at journaling, and this blog is about as close as I get to keeping a record of my life. At least there is some insentive when friends give me a nudge and say why aren't you blogging? Anyhoo, I'm off to watch telly now.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Ancient Greek playing keepy-uppy

Originally uploaded by Jon Taylor.

And we thought we invented footy. Here is a relief of an ancient Greek playing keepy-uppy. (I wonder how many he could do). No wonder the Greeks won Euro 2004, they've had up to 4000 years practice. (actually I think he's balancing a 'medicine ball' in a gymnasium, or is he?)

Thursday, September 29, 2005


'Even one of their own prophets has said "Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons" This testimony is true.' Titus 1:12.

Always felt this was a bit harsh of the Apostle Paul, and having just spent a wonderful week a Crete I can definitely say that however true this may have been in the 1st Century it no longer applies. Cretans in my experience are a very warm, gentle, hard-working and honest people! (I wonder if this is why out of the many churches I saw in Crete, none were dedicated to St. Paul?).
We just got back from a very chilled out holiday in Elounda in Crete with Su's mum and Geoff. Elounda is a fairly small town on the North East coast of Crete beside a lagoon which is almost entirely cut off from the rest of the Mediterranean and is surrounded by mountains. Upon our arrival in Crete, we picked up our hire car and an hour later we were enjoying a cold beer and this view in a sea-front Taverna - the Cypriana before we'd even unpacked our cases. Just behind the Cypriana was our apartment. From our balcony we enjoyed this view :

It really was an incredibly chilled out holiday. We went on a few trips, such as visiting Knossos a Minoan palace which was kind of impressive, due to it's size and age. The effect was spoilt a little bit, however, due to the fact that it has been largely reconstructed (using lots of concrete) according to one guy's interpretation and it was hard to tell which bits were original.

We also went to a place called the Lasithi plateau, a fertile region in the middle of the island which is covered in orchards and vineyards and lots of windmills which were used to pump water to irrigate the region. Extremely beautiful and very quiet except for the bells of a few mountain goats.

Our last outing was a boat trip to an island called Spinalonga which was the last Leper colony in Europe. A fascinating and beautiful, if tragic, place.

Most of our days, however, were spent lazing on beaches :

strolling along harbours :

or in tavernas!

It's a hard life sometimes!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Ashes 2005

What an amazing summer of cricket we have had. Congratulations to the England team on regaining the Ashes. (which never actually leave the MCC museum at Lord's anyway, but hey). Matt Rees sums up my feelings nicely. I can't remember a time when cricket so captured the public imagination. Even Su almost became interested. Anyone who still thinks cricket is boring must have Attention Deficit Disorder.
Now, to everything there is a season, and now is the time for a little gloat. The Australian side have been amazing and one has to admire the likes of Warne and McGrath but there are some words to be eaten by the Aussies (curtesy of Metro newspaper) :

'I think I was saying 3-0 or 4-0 about 12 months ago, thinking there might be a bit of rain. But with the weather as it is at the moment, I have to say 5-0' Glenn McGrath

'England will lose the five-Test series 3-0 and the margin will be worse for them if it doesn't rain. If you put the players from Australia and England up against each other it is embarrassing. There is no contest between them on an individual or team basis.' Jeff Thompson

'I'm not looking at it as being the first to lose them. I'm looking at being another Australian captain to retain the Ashes.' Ricky Ponting

'I don't really care much for all this "are they closer?" I really believe that it's all about us - if we are executing our skills I don't believe there's a side that can get close to us.' Matthew Hayden

'This England team, while they are better and on track, I can't see them beating this Australian team in a game.' Ian Healy

'I definitely believe if any of our batsmen get out to Giles in the Tests they should go and hang themselves. But I'm confident that won't happen' Terry Alderman (Giles took 10 wickets)

'One day we'll lose the Ashes and it will be as horrific as waking up after a night on the drink in a room full of images of Camilla Parker Bowles' The Daily Telegraph, Sydney


Thursday, August 25, 2005

Bigmouth Strikes Again

Who would Jesus assasinate? Nutjob Pat Robertson has called for the US to 'take out' the democratically president of Venezuela!. Now I know the CIA have not been averse to orchestrating the overthrow of the odd South American government in the past (Chile, El Salvador, Nicaragua etc) but you're not supposed to talk about that stuff on the 700 club. This guy really is a genius at self parody, but it is rather embarrassing that he bears the name "Christian". As I suspected sven has already picked up on this. For more 'Pat' related fun check out his 'Dear Pat' archive on his old blog. Seriously though, all self-respecting American Christians should pray for this fundie to keep his mouth shut or be secretly raptured (I'm already hoping that any self-respecting American Christian would boycott CBN, but I fear this may not be the case) . Jim Wallis writes an excellent piece about it here

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Brother Roger Murdered

Brother Roger, the founder of the Taizé community had been stabbed to death in front of 2500 young worshippers. This is shocking news. I have never been to Taizé but the very idea of it inspires me and this a tragedy which will surely have reverberations around the Christian world. Nice article on the impact of Taizé on the church here

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Muslim Suicide Bombers?

In light of recent events and the ongoing debate surrounding Islam within Britain, I am posting an essay which I wrote last year on the question of whether those who commit such acts can be considered to be acting in accordance with Islam.


The events of September 11th 2001 caused many in the West to ask questions about the religion of the perpetrators. The hijackers, as their suicide notes show, believed they were acting as true Muslims, playing their part as martyrs in a ‘holy war’, dying ‘in the way of God’. Both George Bush and Tony Blair were quick to state that whoever was responsible had perverted the teachings of Islam which is a ‘peace loving religion’.1 This essay will attempt to answer the question – ‘to what extent can the men and women who commit suicide attacks be considered to be acting in accordance with the Islamic religion?’. The question will be approached in four parts – firstly, a brief overview of martyrdom within Islamic history will be given; secondly, the views of the some of the people who perform these acts will be explored, thirdly, some texts from the Qur’an will be examined, and lastly some other Muslim views will be considered.

1. The Voice of History

Suicide bombing is a relatively recent phenomen. The first known occurrence was in the Lebanese civil war in 1983, when the US embassy in Beirut was destroyed by a truck bomb.2 A little known organisation called Al Jihad Al Islami, ‘Islamic Jihad’ claimed responsibility.3However, the principle of ‘readiness to sacrifice one's life in the process of destroying or attempting to destroy a target to advance a political goal’ 4 draws from a tradition of martyrdom within Islam which goes back a long way.

The Arabia into which Mohammed was born in 570 CE was a place of nomadic tribes, often involved in bitter factional feuds. Loyalty to one’s own clan was of paramount importance. As Riddell and Cotterell explain ‘An attack on one is an attack on all. The need of one is the need of all. Fighting is unavoidable and noble. Death in fighting for the clan is an honourable death.’5

One of Mohammed’s most outstanding achievements is that he managed to instil a sense of unity and loyalty within the emerging Muslim community (Umma) that went beyond these traditional, tribal allegiances. A significant unifying factor was the expansion of the Dar al Islam (sphere of Islam) through military raids and conquest, ‘Holy War’, one of the interpretations of Jihad.

There has been much debate regarding the meaning of Jihad, which is the Arabic word for ‘struggle’. In one of the hadith, the traditions of the prophet Mohammed, he distinguishes between a ‘lesser’ Jihad, holy war against the enemies of Islam, and a ‘greater’ Jihad, the struggle against evil.6 The former of these meanings was developed during the Medina period of the prophet’s life, after the Hijra in 622 CE. Also from this period arose the belief that those who died while fighting on Jihad were promised a place in paradise.7 Martyrdom ‘in the way of Allah’, on Jihad, became the most glorious of deaths. It is these themes which have been picked up on by the Islamists in recent times who are prepared to use violence, and suicide attacks to advance their cause.

The cult of martyrdom has always been strongest within Shi’a Islam. Shi’ite Muslims look back to the fourth caliph of Islam, Ali, who they believe should have succeeded Mohammed. Both Ali and his two sons, Hannan and Hussein, suffered violent deaths. The death of Imam Hussein, in particular, is one of the most important milestones of Islamic history. Hussein was fighting for the caliphate against Yazid, whom he considered to be an oppressive impostor. His uncompromising idealism, his resolve to fight against overwhelming opposition, and his bloody death at Karbala turned him into Shi’a’s most revered martyr. As Hiro states Hussein ‘turned the concept of martyrdom into a tactic to achieve an ideal Islamic order.’8

It is perhaps not a complete surprise then, that it is from within Shi’a Islam that the first occurrences of suicide attacks in the modern era are found. It was Shi’ite Iranian revolutionaries who inspired the first suicide attacks in Lebanon. The group which claimed responsibility ‘Islamic Jihad’ went on to become Hizbollah, ‘the party of God’. The effectiveness of the attacks soon caused them to be imitated by other groups in Palestine, Egypt, Algeria and elsewhere. Over the years, networks of Islamist groups were established and operational links formed which came to include Osama bin Ladin and what became known as Al Qaida.

It must be mentioned that suicide bombing is not a uniquely Muslim phenomenon. Perhaps the most frequent practitioners of suicide attacks have been the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) who are Hindus fighting for an independent state in Sri Lanka.9 It is reported that the Tamil Tigers, which include men and women, have committed at least five times as many suicide attacks as all other similar organisations put together.10 Other non-Islamic groups include the Marxist Kurdish group PKK, and several secular Lebanese and Palestinian organisations.

2. The Voice of The Martyrs

What do the people who actually commit ‘Islamic’ suicide attacks believe about themselves and their actions? Obviously, those who are successful are not around to explain their motives. However, there are examples of suicide notes and other documents which have been used in the preparation for such attacks. Whilst the authenticity of these notes may be questioned, especially where they have been used for propaganda purposes by the sponsoring organisation, they do give an insight into the mindset of the suicide bombers.

An example suicide note from Palestinian group Hamas in May 2001 makes particularly grisly reading – ‘Whoever believes that God's religion will be victorious without holy struggle, without blood, without body parts, is living under an illusion’.11 The Palestinian cause is shrouded in language of establishing Islam through violent, bloody Jihad and martyrdom.

In the case of Sept 11th, it has been discovered that each hijacker carried a handwritten document containing the following instructions ‘Remember the Battles of the Prophet.... Against the infidels as he went on building the Islamic state’, it went on to tell them ‘they must pray and fast, reciting the Qur’an and asking God for guidance’, ‘You have to be convinced that the hours left in your life are very few. From there on, you will begin to live the happy life, the infinite paradise.’, and finally ‘We are of God, and to God we return.’12

A video tape made by one of the hijackers, Ahmed al-Haznawi, was aired by the Al-Jazeera television station in April 2002. The video, which acts as a ‘last will and testament’ for Haznawi, makes clear that from his perspective the act of suicide was an expression of God’s will. He saw it as a duty and an honour to die in order to promote the world Islamic system and fulfil God’s commandments.13

So, from the insider’s point of view, it is clear that these people believe they are acting as dedicated Muslims, carrying out God’s will and dying in ‘the way of God’. However, it is questionable whether this can be used as an argument for them acting according to Islam, just because they believe they are. After all, there are many examples of people committing atrocities in the name of their religion, from fundamentalist ‘Christians’ murdering abortion doctors to the activities of the KKK or the IRA. Most Christians would be horrified to be associated with such groups. It is unfair to judge an organisation, or a religion by its extremes.

3. The Voice of the Qur’an

All Muslims would consider the Qu’ran to be the authoritative source for all they do and believe. This is true for none more than the radical Islamists from whom the suicide bombers are drawn. These reformist Muslims pride themselves on their literalist interpretations of the Qur’an.14
To the outsider, a cursory glance at the Quranic texts can lead to confusion, as different parts of the Qur’an appear to be saying contradictory things. This is due in part to the way the Qur’an has been compiled. Broadly speaking, the chapters (Suras) of the Qur’an can be broken into two categories, those from the Mecca period of the prophet’s life, and those from the later Medina period. These two sets of Suras contain very different ideas, reflecting the different contexts. In order to resolve the differences Muslim scholars have established a theory of abrogation, whereby later Suras cancel out earlier ones where there is an apparent contradiction. To take the issue of violence within Jihad, for example. Moderate Muslims would point to those verses which appear to advocate peaceful tolerance of ‘pagans’ such as

‘Let there be no compulsion in religion.’ Sura 2:256

The Islamists on the other hand, would take verses like the infamous ‘Sword’ verse

‘Fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them.’ Sura 9:5
‘Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and his Apostle, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, from among the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizyah with willing submission and feel themselves subdued.’ Sura 9:29

These verses advocating violence are from the Medina Suras, which are later than the previous ‘peaceful’ verses. According to some scholars, this means the former non-jihad verses are abrogated. Radical Islamists would take this as support for their views.15 Riddell and Cotterell believe that ‘The Islamic sacred texts offer the potential for being interpreted in both ways. It depends on how individual Muslims wish to read them.’16

When it comes to the issue of suicide, the advocates are viewing it as a logical extension of the principle of martyrdom on Jihad. The verse most commonly appealed to by the candidates and their sponsors is the following promise of Paradise –

‘Think not of those who are slain in Allah’s way as dead. Nay they live, finding their sustenance in the Presence of their Lord. They rejoice in the bounty provided by Allah.’ Sura 3:169

By contrast others would point to the following verse which seems to expressly forbid suicide

‘do not kill yourselves, indeed, Allah is merciful to you’ Sura 4:29

4. The Voice of The Moderates

It is important to state that the type of Muslims who support the use of suicide bombing attacks are a very small minority. The overwhelming majority of the world’s Muslims find these incidents, especially the events of September 11th, deplorable. Following September 11th many prominent Muslim leaders were quick to unequivocally condemn the attacks. Dr. Zaki Badawi, an influential academic and religious leader spoke on BBC radio saying
‘Those who plan and carry out such acts are condemned by Islam, and the massacres of thousands, whoever perpetrated it, is a crime against God as well as against humanity.’17 Others drew comparisons with the Kharijite sect, a purist group from the 8th century. Q news, a London magazine for Muslims, wrote in an article called ‘There are no Muslim terrorists’ – ‘We need to tell the world that Islam is guiltless, and that terrorism is carried out by members of an aberrant cult, called Kharijism, which borrows some Islamic forms but is in fact a separate religion.’18

Aside from condemning terrorist attacks, many Muslims have written against the act of commiting suicide. Yusuf Al-Qaradawi states clearly ‘Whatever applies to the crime of murder likewise applies to commiting suicide. Whoever takes his life by any means whatsoever has unjustly taken a life which Allah has made sacred.'19
Finally, Abdul Malik Eagle, a historian of Islam, believes the teaching of Islam concerning suicide is quite clear. He quotes an early Islamic authority Mohammed al-Bakr, relating a saying of the Prophet Mohammed ‘that the believer may be tried to the utmost and die after great tribulations, but he must not kill himself.’ He continues: ‘There is another saying from the son of Al-Bakr, whom I have just quoted, that the Holy Prophet said that he who kills himself on purpose will be in the fire of hell abiding therein forever. Now this is very, very strong language. It is not just that suicide is condemned, it is a grave crime and sin from the Islamic point of view.’20 So it can be seen that many within the Muslim community would consider the phrase ‘Muslim suicide bombers’ to be an oxymoron.


The question of whether ‘Muslim’ suicide bombers can be thought to be truly Islamic is not a straightforward one to answer. This is partly because there is no one central authority within Islam to declare who or what is or isn’t Islamic. There are a number of different voices each saying slightly different things. Unfortunately, though the radical Islamists who advocate or carry out suicide bombings are certainly in the minority, they have an influence which far exceeds their number. It is their voices which are often reported in the Western media, while the moderates are quietly sidelined. There is certainly a strain of violence which runs through Islamic history. The glorification of martyrdom, particularly within Shi’a Islam can be seen as providing a seed bed for the suicide bombers of today. However, there are so many other factors involved, social, economic and psychological, that suicide bombing cannot be claimed as an inherently Islamic practise. The
fact that many, if not the majority of suicide bombings are committed by non-muslims is telling. The Qur’an may be interpreted to justify violent Jihad in order to establish Dar al Islam, and martyrs who die on Jihad are promised paradise. Extending this line of argument to justify the wholesale slaughter of non-combatants, including women, children and, as in Sept. 11th, other Muslims would seem to be doing violence to the texts. The suicide bombers themselves certainly consider themselves to be true Muslims, but this fact is by far outweighed by the number of Muslim authorities who claim these people have no part in the Umma. In the end, perhaps only the Muslim community can answer the question raised in the title of this essay. Muslim suicide bombers? Possibly, but if they can be considered Muslim then they cannot be thought to be representative of Islam as a whole.

1 Peter G. Riddell & Peter Cotterell, Islam in Conflict, Leicester, 2003, 150
2 Dilip Hiro, War Without End, London, 2002, 270
3 Robert Fisk, Pity the Nation – Lebanon at War, Oxford, 1992, 476-480
4Dr Rohan Gunaratna, Jane’s Intelligence Review, April 2000,
5 Riddell & Cotterell, op. cit., 15
6 Malise Ruthven, Islam – A Very Short Introduction, Oxford, 1997, 118
7 Riddell & Cotterell, op. cit, 28f
8 Hiro, op. cit., 22
9 Hiro, op. cit., 271
10 BBC News, May 2000,
11 Bill O’Brian, Slate, MSN, Mar 2001,
12 Hiro, op. cit., 299
13 The Guardian, April 2002,,11209,685127,00.html
14 Bill Musk, Holy War- Why do some muslims become fundamentalists?, London, 2003, 227f
15 Anne Cooper & Elsie A. Maxwell, Ishmael My Brother, London, 2003, 126f
16 Riddell & Cotterell, op. cit, 192
17 ibid., 183
18 ibid., 184
19 Yusuf, The Lawful & The Prohibited in Islam, London, 1985, 327
Jonathan Taylor Page 6 9/7/04
20 Charles Recknagel and Azam Gorgin, Radio Free Europe, Oct. 2001,


Al–Qaradawi, Y. The Lawful & The Prohibited in Islam, Shorouk International, 1985
Chapman, C. Cross and Crescent, IVP, Leicester, 1995
Cooper, A. & Maxwell, E.A. Ishmael My Brother, Monarch, London, 2003
Fisk, R. Pity the Nation – Lebanon at War, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1992
Hiro, D. War Without End – The Rise of Islamist Terrorism and Global Response, Routledge, London, 2002
Musk, B. Holy War – Why Do Some Muslims Become Fundamentalists, Monarch, London, 2003
Riddell, P.G. & Cotterell, P. Islam in Conflict – Past, Present and Future, IVP, Leicester, 2003
Ruthven, M. Islam – A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1997

Web Sites,11209,685127,00.html

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Believe The Hype

I may not get to buy as many cds as I used to but I can safely say that album of the summer is, without doubt, The Magic Numbers amazing debut album. I love it. Bittersweet pop songs with Byrdsian/Beach boys harmonies, janglie guitars and even handclaps, it's everything that American indie pop/rock should be (except they're from the UK!). And any band that plays one of these is way cool in my book. Ok, they're shamelessly retro, but who isn't these days. Don't mention their size though as they're a bit touchy in that department.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

It's Been A Long Time

OK, so it's been over a month since I blogged. I have no excuses for this other than laziness and a complete lack of inspiration of what to write. After we got back from our week in Cornwall we had one day at home then we flew off to Shannon for a week of camping in Southern Ireland with our friends Pete and Hayley. Pete had somehow managed to get 4 return flights from Luton to Shannon for £71. That's not £71 each, but £71 for everyone, including tax! We hired a car and worked our way round the Dingle peninsula, the 'Ring of Kerry' and the South West corner round to Cork, camping at 5 different campsites in 7 nights. The countryside was stunning, like the Lake district had been picked up and dumped in Cornwall (but without the crowds of tourists), giving me my two favourite things - mountains and rugged coastline. The weather was amazing, glorious sunshine virtually every day, which is apparently even more unusual for Ireland than it is for Cornwall. We took loads of photos, some of which I'll post on here. It seems like ages ago now. The rest of the (so-called) summer has consisted of working at the bookshop, working with Prof. Hull, decorating our front room and job-hunting (so far unsuccessfully), oh and watching cricket of course.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Free iPod!

At the risk of being accused of jumping on the bandwagon, I have decided to sign up for this offer to get a free iPod. I wouldn't normally do this sort of thing, but this may be the only chance I have of getting an iPod in the near future, and desperate times call for desperate measures. I've heard of these iPod giveaway schemes in the States and they are legit, see the following BBC article which explains more about how it works.

To get a free iPod, and help me to get one, click on the following link : ipods give away, choose which one you would like. You then have to sign up to one of the free trial offers, I have signed up to the DVD rental trial which is free providing I cancel within 21 days. Refer a few friends and wait for your free iPod!

I got this via Jason Clarke so I've already helped him along a bit (sorry Andy). Two of the people who read this blog have already (beat me to it) and signed up, Andy and Steve so check it out!

Wednesday, July 06, 2005


This week we are down in Cornwall on holiday. We are staying at Rachel's house in Truro, while she does her exams up in Birmingham. That means we are also doing our first major stint of babysitting (3 days and 3 nights) with Jamie our nephew. It's been loads of fun and he's been as good as gold. /;['/;[;[';/';;;..;
oops, that was Jamie giving his thoughts on the situation.

On Monday we had that most rare of things in Cornwall, which makes it all the more special when it does happen, a glorious, sunny day, all day. We took Jamie to the beach at Newquay and splashed around in the sea. I went surfing and caught some huge waves (so big in fact that I bust my bodyboard), and we had pasties for lunch. Yesterday it was back to the Cornwall we know and love, clouds, mist and drizzle all day. We went to a fishing village called Looe and made the best of it, ducking in and out of the shops to avoid the showers. We played the proper parents, going round moaning about the lack of baby changing facilities in the public toilets and the difficulty of finding a suitable café with a high chair, but eventually found a cracking little fish and chips place. Any moaning from Jamie was soon appeased by a 90p windmill on a stick thing.

It's 9.25am and Jamie is on his 3rd pooey nappy of the day. Is this normal? Or should we not have given him that curry last night? The sun is out again, so I think another beach trip is in order. Life is sweet.

Friday, July 01, 2005


Last night I had my graduation from college. Here's a little testimony thing I gave, the primary purpose of which was to embarass my wife Su.

Graduation Testimony

Well, I never dreamed I would be standing up here today receiving a 1st Class Honours degree in Theology. Some people may remember that I also graduated last year, receiving the Diploma… maybe I just like graduations. So yes, I nearly left last year. It’s not that I nearly dropped out, because that would imply that I signed up to do a three year degree in the first place, whereas I actually only signed up to do 1 year! Four years ago I was a very bored software engineer, working at a troubled company called Marconi. I got the opportunity to take voluntary redundancy, and after a lot of thought decided that what I would like to do more than anything is to go and spend a year studying the bible. So I asked God and I asked my wife Su and to my delight and surprise they both said yes. I guess I was looking at it as a kind of year out, an opportunity to do something I’d always wanted to do, and a chance to reflect and think about the future. I enjoyed the 1st year immensely, and when it was finished I felt like I’d had a really tasty starter in a good restaurant. I was hungry for more.

Dr. Massey started to encourage me to consider doing the second year. Now, Dr. Massey is very cunning. He started saying things like ‘we feel it would be shame for someone of your calibre not to continue your studies’, stroking my ego. Now I wanted to do the second year, like I said I was hungry for more, but it felt a bit indulgent. Two years full time study, while my poor wife went out to work to earn the pennies, it didn’t seem fair. And besides, we couldn’t afford it. Well, we prayed about it and talked about it, and once again, to my amazement, Su agreed to supporting me for another year. God’s provision was amazing, Dr. Massey put me forward for a bursary from the Evangelical Alliance (the Jerusalem Trust, one of the Sainsbury Family’s charitable trusts) and we got the full amount we applied for (which makes me feel a bit better about doing our shopping at Sainsbury’s). Through various other ways, including the generosity of my parents, God supplied all our needs. I loved the second year. We started to get into some real meaty stuff. I got a chance to read lots of fat books, which I love, and I especially enjoyed Pauline theology, which probably makes me some kind of masochist. I really began to see how theology and biblical studies fit together. Our class discussions were fun, and helped to clarify what I believe, and what I definitely don’t believe.

Well, I thought that would definitely be it, hence the graduation last year. Once again, various people, students and lecturers began to sow seeds in my mind. ‘What do you mean your dropping out?’, they said. Dr. Massey gave me a word in chapel about not leaving foundations unfinished. Tell that to my wife, I thought. I felt one year had been a privilege, two years was a real bonus, a third year would be pushing it. We agonised over the decision all summer. I kept thinking I should really get a proper job. Once again, Su, bless her, agreed to let me go ahead and finish off the degree. Again, on paper we couldn’t afford it, but God has been so good in providing for us. The third year was more of a challenge, the concepts were more difficult, some of the theories a bit more bizarre, the names of the scholars more German. Enjoyment would be a strange word for it, but I learned a lot and it has all been worth it and I’m just so pleased to be here tonight.

I would like to thank God for giving me this chance to pursue my passions, and teaching me to trust Him and that there is always more to know of Him. I’d like to thank my parents for their love, encouragement and generous support. Thankyou to all the staff at the college, and my fellow students, it really has been a case of iron sharpening iron. And last but not least I’d like to thank my amazing wife Su. Su may well be the ‘wife of noble character’ of Proverbs 31. She has been incredible, not only going out to work each day to provide for both of us, but also doing most of the housework while my head has been stuck in the books. She has given me constant encouragement, picking me up when I’ve been down, coping with my anxiety and insecurity, kicking my up the backside when I’ve needed it and always believing me. She has shown me new meanings of the words patience, kindness and love. I think she’s the best wife ever. She deserves an award.

The future? My dream would be to be a part-time Vineyard pastor in somewhere like Vancouver, teaching New Testament at Regents college and going snowboarding at the weekend. I suspect God may have other plans, we’ll see.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

blogging drought

Howcome when I was in the middle of revision and dissertation writing I wanted to blog all the time, but now I have jack all to do I have lost the will to blog? Let's see, what have I been up to? On Sunday, I spoke again at church, on the example of Paul in Philippians. It felt a lot better than last week, I think I was a bit more chilled out, and it wasn't nearly as hot. Sunday was also our 6th wedding anniversary, which is pretty mad. Every year we say we can't believe how quickly it's gone, but at the same time it feels like we've always been together. It does keep getting better though, and we're both so thankful that we've been given such a great marriage.

Haven't seen any job opportunities yet, but it's early days I suppose. The other night Su and I were chatting about it in bed. It was around 11.30pm and I was doing my usual thing of saying 'I don't know what I'm going to do', and Su was doing her usual thing of saying 'don't worry', when the phone went. 'Who's that, phoning at 11.30?' we said. It turned out to be a girl from church, one of the many new Polish people that have been coming along recently. In broken English she explained that she didn't normally do this sort of thing, but that she felt prompted by God to phone and tell me that I was to be at peace, because God has a job in store for me and that I was to stop worrying. Stunned, I said thankyou and returned to bed, when of course Su said 'I told you not to worry'. Talk about perfect timing! I'm glad this girl was obedient to the prompt she had, and that she had the guts to phone someone late at night who she hardly knows to pass on a message from God in a foreign language.

On a completely different note, I can always rely on sven for a lazy link when I've ran out of things to say. I am in full agreement with his 1st Council of Sven on tea and various other important matters. Any American readers should especially take note (it goes without saying that 'Iced' tea is anathema)

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Julian Beever's Pavement Art

Originally uploaded by Jon Taylor.

Got sent these pictures today. They show the artwork of a guy called Julian Beever who does this stuff all over the world. The pictures are anamorphose which means that when viewed from the right angle they appear in 3D. V. cool.

See the rest of them here

Ode to BA (Hons) Theology

Here's a song my friend Lewis wrote while he was in the middle of exams:
(Based on My Way!)

Now, the end is near
And so I've faced the final Gobbet...
I tried, to make things clear
But now I fear I may have lost it!
I studied long, I studied hard
But to what end, there is no telling
I'm not sure if, my paper's marred
By my unique abysmal spelling...?

Thinking back, I may have cause
To be vexed, about my grading
My answers have, eternal flaws
That second class, looks like its fading!
My essay plan, had Abraham
100 years, before King David
I think I claimed, in the exam
The fall of man, is easily dated?!

Was it 'Q'?! Or 'W'?!
I just don't know, it's so confusing
It's hard to tell, what's real and true
I cannot take this mental bruising!
I said that Luke, was written first
And maybe Mark, missed out Good Friday?!
O but more......much more than this....
I did it...
My way

The 'Was it 'Q' or 'W'?' line refers to a classic moment in one of our synoptic gospels classes when a Korean member of our class 'Mr. Cha' put up his hand and asked why 'Q' (the name for a hypothetical source of Matthew and Luke) wasn't called 'W'.
We have no idea why he asked this.

Monday, June 20, 2005


I got a first! Of course, I was hoping and praying for one, but I was convinced I'd messed up my exams, so I was expecting a 2:1, which I would have been ok with, being an improvement on my Desmond first time round. I can't explain how happy I am. I'm so thankful to Su who has supported me all the way through and never stopped believing in me.

Results Day

Well, today's the day I get the results for my degree. The end of three years work. After the exams I was quite nervous 'cos I thought they went badly, but now I'm strangely relaxed about the result for some reason. I know that whatever happens I did my best (which is more than I can say for my first degree). I expect we'll be going out for a curry tonight whatever happens.

The weekend was fun, if ridiculously hot. Saturday lunchtime we met up with Michael, Mary and Helen for a farewell lunch at Nando's in the Bullring. Michael is one of the easiest people to get on with I've ever met, and is never short of interesting conversation. He has a genuine love for life which is infectious and, like all the best Americans, is a complete Anglophile. This song is for him.

Worked again with John Hull on Saturday afternoon for the first time in ages, which is always good. It's weird how quickly 3 hours goes working with John compared to 3 hours working at the bookshop which seems to last about 3 weeks.

Spent time with the family, (hi mum), including Rachel, Karl and James, on Saturday evening for a Father's day type get together, which was great as we don't get to see each other as often as we'd like.

On Sunday morning I was speaking at church from Philippians 2:1-18 (how can you do justice to this amazing passage in 20 minutes?). It went ok, I think, but I was a bit rusty and it was altogether too hot. By half way through I had bored myself, which is probably not a good sign. Hopefully things will go a bit better next week.

Sven's theology quiz has been crazily popular (14000 takers at the last count!) and of course has attracted attention from some dumb Christians who've got nothing better to do than whinge and generally be a pain in the backside. Get a life people, it was just a bit of fun. He even got some malicious spam code in one of his comments, good comeback though.

Friday, June 17, 2005

New Archbishop of York

I think this is good news. Sentamu is a dude. I once saw him give the best djembe solo I've ever seen. Seriously, I think he is a good choice for Archbishop, although it is a sad loss for Birmingham. Maggi Dawn tells some good stories from when he was her vicar.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The Problem

The first chapter of Don Miller's Blue Like Jazz was really just an intro to some of his thoughts on our 'sin nature'. The idea that there is 'something wrong with human nature', as Billy Graham (or was it Gary Clail?) used to say, is not exactly a fashionable thing to talk about so it was interesting to hear his thoughts on the concept.
On p14 he talks some more about his own feelings of guilt :

'I didn't feel like I knew God, and yet He was making me experience this conviction. I felt that the least He could have done was to come down and introduce Himself and explain these feelings of conviction in person.
If you don't love somebody, it gets annoying when they tell you what to do or what to feel. When you love them you get pleasure from their pleasure, and it makes it easier to serve. I didn't love God because I didn't know God.
Still, I knew, because of my own feelings, there was something wrong with me, and it wasn't only me. I knew it was everybody. It was like a bacteria or a cancer or a trance. It wasn't on the skin, it was in the soul. It showed itself in loneliness, lust, anger, jealousy and depression. It had people screwed up bad everywhere you went - at the store, at home, at church; it was ugly and deep. Lots of singers on the radio were singing about it and cops had jobs because of it. It was as if we were broken, I thought, as if we were never supposed to feel these sticky emotions. It was as if we were cracked, couldn't love right, couldn't feel good things for very long without screwing it all up. We were like gasoline engines running on diesel.

I like what he does here. It is difficult to talk about our 'sin nature' without sounding like some kind of fundamentalist. It has often been expressed in ways that make people sound worthless, completely overwriting the goodness of God's creation. The issue must be faced though, at some point in our lives we need to realise that we are 'part of the problem'. It is no good blaming everything on 'the system', on 'structural' or 'corporate' sin (although I do believe in such a thing). Miller expresses this on p20:

'The problem is not a certain type of legislation or even a certain politician; the problem is the same that it has always been. I am the problem.
I think every conscious person, every person who is awake to the functioning principles within his reality, has a moment where he stops blaming the problems in the world on group think, on humanity and authority, and starts to face himself. I hate this more than anything. This is the hardest principle within Christian spirituality for me to deal with. The problem is not out there; the problem is the needy beast of a thing that lives in my chest.'

The next bit is challenging for me, and for anyone who claims to be interested in social justice :
'More than my questions about the efficacy of social action were my questions about my own motives. Do I want social justice for the oppressed, or do I just want to be known as a socially active person? I spend 95 percent of my time thinking about myself anyway. I don't have to watch the evening news to see that the world is bad, I only have to look at myself. I am not browbeating myself here; I am only saying that true change, true life giving, God-honouring change would have to start with the individual. I was the very problem I had been protesting. I wanted to make a sign that read "I AM THE PROBLEM!"

This reminds me of a G.K. Chesterton story. The Times newspaper once ran a series of articles on the topic of "What is wrong with the world?". They had contributions from various politicians and other famous people. When the series had run for a while a letter was published which read
"Dear Sir,
What is wrong with the world?
I am.
Yours sincerely,
G.K. Chesterton"

There is so much good, honest stuff in this chapter, but I'm probably already in breach of 'fair use', so I'll just finish with this C.S. Lewis poem that he quotes (p21) :

'All this flashy rhetoric about loving you.
I never had a selfless thought since I was born.
I am mercenary and self-seeking through and through;
I want God, you, all friends, merely to serve my turn.

Peace, reassurance, pleasure, are the goals I seek,
I cannot crawl one inch outside my proper skin;
I talk of love - a scholars parrot may talk Greek-
But, self-imprisoned, always end where I begin'

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Light Reading

It is such a relief to be able to read for fun again! I enjoy reading big theology textbooks, which I know is fairly weird, but after the revision and dissertation stuff it is nice to read something a bit more inspirational. I picked up Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz which I think has been out in the States for ages but seems to have only just made it to our Christian bookshop. So far, Don Miller's 'non-religious thoughts on Christian Spirituality' have been refreshingly honest, uplifting and funny and I thought I might blog a bit about them.

The opening chapter describes Don's childhood struggles to relate to God as a Father (he only saw his own father 3 times as he was growing up) and his early forays into "sinning", meaning telling lies, cussing, fighting and looking up girl's skirts. The ensuing feelings of guilt caused him to begin using religion as a means of getting back to normal, so he could have fun without feeling guilty. He describes this view of God as a 'slot-machine God'.
'The slot-machine God provided a relief for the pinging guilt and a sense of hope that my life would get organized toward a purpose. I was too dumb to test the merit of the slot machine idea. I simply began to pray for forgiveness, thinking the cherries might line up and the light atop the machine would flash, spilling shiny tokens of good fate. What I was doing was more in line with superstition than spirituality. But it worked. If something nice happened to me, I thought it was God, and if something didn't, I went back to the slot machine, knelt down in prayer, and pulled the lever a few more times. I liked this God very much because you hardly had to talk to it and it never talked back. But the fun never lasts'
The chapter ends with him buying his mum a cheap and crappy Christmas present so he can spend the rest of his money on fishing equipment. He feels so ashamed of this (perhaps describing himself as Hitler was a tad over the top) that he gets on his knees and really connects with God for the first time.

I was struck by how I blessed I have been to have the parents I have. When I came back to God 8 years ago after a period of walking away from Him I was very aware that they had been praying for me. I also had a strong sense of God as a Father who was personally interested in my life and was there for me as my own dad was . It is mindblowing when you get a glimpse of the Father's love. It is amazing how quick we go back to treating God as a non-personal religious system to deal with our sin and guilt rather than wanting to please Him because we love Him.

Saturday, June 11, 2005


Coldplay's new album is their best yet. In fact they have got better with every album I reckon. I used to think they were just bland dadrock like Travis but the second album got me hooked and now I think they're truly great. It's not a huge change of direction or anything but when the songwriting is as good as this then you don't need a change of direction. This is the sound of a band at the top of their game. But perhaps I'm just getting old.

A Kairos Moment? G8 finance ministers meet

Today the finance ministers of the G8 countries continue their discussions about aid and debt reduction in preparation for the G8 summit at Gleneagles. Will today represent a real kairos moment, with an historic agreement on debt relief? As always with such things the devil is in the details and it is difficult to ascertain what’s really going on from the various accounts of discussions. Here's what I currently understand to be the situation :

Make Poverty History have been pushing for the G8 countries to double their aid and commit to honouring their promises to raise aid to 0.7% of GDP (which were made 35 years ago). It doesn't look like the US administration are going to buy into this, claiming they have already doubled aid in the last 4 years and trebled food aid. Brown was proposing an International Finance Facility which would frontload aid by issuing bonds. His mini-IFF may have to go ahead with a 'coalition of the willing'.
Here are the 2004 'Aid as a % of GDP' figures for the G7 :

France - 0.42%
United Kingdom - 0.36%
Germany - 0.28%
Canada - 0.26%
Japan - 0.19%
US - 0.16%
Italy - 0.15%

source - OECD web site

Meanwhile global spending on arms tops $1 trillion dollars!

I am convinced the US churches have a vital role to play in this arena and it was encouraging to see mega-church pastor and best-selling author Rick Warren getting on board with the One campaign.

Debt Relief
It looks like there is about to be a significant announcement on debt relief. This is a fantastic start. Their are 18 countries whose entire debt stands to be written off, with a further 11 who may qualify in the future. Jubilee Debt Campaign believe that there are at least 62 countries who should qualify for debt relief, but this is a significant first step (if it materialises) which must be applauded.

Trade Justice
There is a long way to go on this. The EU and the US are not going to give up their agricultural subsidies any time soon and it remains to be seen how much of the promised debt relief will be conditional upon the IMF/World Bank's demands for liberalisation.

As for climate change, it would not appear to be anywhere near the table, let alone on it. Although Blair is still optimistic. Perhaps it is unrealistic to fight a war on two fronts?

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Last Theological Quiz

Ok, this one is 'Which theologian are you?'

Jürgen Moltmann




Karl Barth


John Calvin




Charles Finney


Friedrich Schleiermacher


Martin Luther


Paul Tillich


Jonathan Edwards


Which theologian are you?
created with

I like this. The more I read about Moltmann the more I find I agree with him. I need to read his own books though as I've only read him second hand so far.

For anyone bewildered by all these strange names and words, Sven gives some explanations here and here

Eschatology Quiz

Next quiz of Sven's is 'What's your Eschatology?' Which means what do you believe about the end of this age.



Moltmannian Eschatology










Left Behind


What's your eschatology?
created with

Pretty good, although I would like to make a distinction between preterist and partial preterist.

Apologies to anyone reading who is not a Christian, or a theology nerd.