Jamie Smith on A/theism

My “greatest book read in 2010” award (if there was one) must go to James K.A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Baker Academic, 2009). I will leave a full review of it, and why I think it’s so significant, for another time. However, I was interested to discover that there is an online video of Jamie Smith talking about the place of religion in Postmodernity/Postmodern Philosophy on this site. HT to Paul Fromont (once again!)

Facebook vs Blog

I guess I’m not alone in being a weaker blogger because of Facebook. For me, it’s a sense of communication: blogs are big, silent things which only “talk back to you” when you get some comments. Comments are the payback of blogging frequency. The strength of blogging is that it provides a chance to really think, rather than just making a lighthearted comment or contributing to a string of comments. Blogging potentially offers depth, but the cost is that you have to think of something to blog about. It’s a discipline.

Facebook is another approach to communication: quick bursts (though not as short and quick as Twitter) which invite responses from shared friends or extended friends-of-friends. Facebook is a sequence of short, brief re-encounters. But I am left thirsting for meaning. True, there’s no discipline required: just a random dip into the hubbub of communication. It’s a more effective way of staying in basic contact with your friends, with instant feedback. But the cost is depth.

My blogging frequency has been affected over the past two years by life events (two job changes) and the arrival of Facebook in my life. But after two years on the thing, I am missing something of the discipline of structuring my throughts. So here’s the first blog post for a while.

I also want to find a way to share various thoughts and discoveries with students and friends who are interested in listening/conversing. With blogging, you have to imagine a kind of “audience” which relates to the current construction of “you”. Well, I think that both I and the potential audience have changed over the past couple of years. I am no longer a full-time parish priest. I’m a lecturer in worship again. And the context of thought (and my half-imagined “audience”) has changed also. When I started the blog, the whole Emerging Church phenomenon was running high and blogging was one of the best ways of engaging in the conversation. That has changed – and some perspective from me on what that change is is more than overdue. Also, I am no longer in a position to provide live perspective on parish ministry from my immediate experience.

Yet on more than one occasion over the past few months, I have detected within myself the desire to share some thoughts with a certain body of readers: both students (past/present) and others. I’ve wondered about starting a new blog, but I’m rather nostalgic about this one. So here’s a few posts and references for you.

‘Rev’ DVD release date postponed

Natch! I have had the DVD of the excellent first series of ‘Rev‘ on order with Amazon for the last couple of weeks, with the intention of using it for teaching at Trinity. Today, I received the following email from Amazon:


Unfortunately, the release date for the item(s) listed below was changed by the supplier, and we need to provide you with a new estimated delivery date based on the new release date:

Tom Hollander, Olivia Colman “Rev [DVD]”
Estimated arrival date: April 21 2011 – April 27 2011

One of Amazon’s aims is to provide a convenient and efficient service; in this case, we have fallen short. Please accept our sincere apologies.

A quick look at the BBC Shop and it appears that their delivery date has also been set back to April. So what’s going on? It was originally scheduled for release at the end of October.  I’ve emailed the BBC Shop to ask for a reason and if I get an answer (a rare thing in contemporary retailing), I will post it here.

Christians blogging the Koran today

In a response to the threat of insulting and highly un-Christian actions by Pastor Terry Jones, a number of Christians are participating in “Blog a Koran Day“. It’s an initiative of Andrew Jones (tallskinnykiwi).  You can see his post here. Let us make September 11th a day of prayer for mutual learning and respect between Christians and Muslims and may the Name of God be glorified by peace, mutual respect and growing wisdom in both our faiths.

Return to Trinity

The big wheel of life has turned right around as this September sees me begin, for the second time in my life, a new academic post on the staff of Trinity College in Bristol. It’s a fascinating experience, returning to an institution which I left over 10 years ago. Trinity is bigger than it was when I left and has developed its activities in a number of different ways.  It has developed context-based learning, for people who are training to be Church leaders: this gives them the opportunity to spend a significant part of their time working as an extension of a local church’s ministry team (and there are a variety of types of context available, from urban to rural). It has recently developed a non-residential part-time course which is taken by a variety of types of student, some of whom are training for ordination locally, while others are preparing for, or resourcing their existing Christian ministry. Finally, Trinity now has an open learning section, that offers courses for people living just about anywhere. This is an exciting combination of activities, which will make the college able to adapt to the changing needs of the Church and the changing opportunities which technology provides.

What has not changed is its institutional commitment to Christian mission. But the outside world has changed since I left, with the UK Church having less and less influence upon its culture. Trinity is very committed to the re-evangelisation of these islands, as in the UK (and Europe more generally) the Church faces critical challenges which are of strategic importance to global Christianity. In many respects, we are facing problems today which other parts of world Christianity will face in coming decades.This task requires both theological and spiritual commitment of the highest order, so it’s important that colleges like Trinity, which seek to resource the Church through training, do so with that same level of missional commitment to a deep spirituality and intellectual excellence. So it’s not surprising that I’m so excited to be part of what’s going on here.

At the same time I miss my many friends at St Michael’s. The staff there have all been wonderful colleagues to work with and immensely supportive. Peter, the principal, in particular, was a tower of strength throughout my time. Those who follow this blog may remember the hassle we had with our house-move, one effect of which was that we abandoned our plans to move to Monmouthshire and bought a house in Bristol instead. This meant a 3-hour daily commute for me, so when I was offered the job at Trinity, it meant more time to commit to doing the job and a huge time-burden lifted. Nevertheless, I had a good time at St Michael’s and wish everyone there my best wishes and love. In particular, I will continue to pray for students I taught there as they enter and develop their ministry in the Church in Wales. A very committed and impressive bunch they all are.

Algorithmic worship

OK, so it was probably because my brain was overheating in the service: Evensong after a rather hasty train journey in the kind of hot humid air you get just before summer rain begins. I only have one cassock, bought for my ordination, in “good value” wool for which I have been grateful in many a cold medieval church building over the years. But tonight was different – I was pouring sweat from every pore as we got to the last song of the service, a modification of an old Dave Bilborough number with dull linguistic monotony. But then I realised that it was possible to trace a simple formula for predicting the words with logical precision:

(Let there be x shared among us,

Let there be x in our lives

Now may your x fill the nations

Cause us, O Lord, to arise;

Give us a fresh understanding of

y x that is real;

Let there be x shared among us,

Let there be x.)

where x is a member of the set {love, peace, joy} and if (x>elements(set)), then x recurses to element 1 of the set in a final element substitution; and where y = {brotherly | sisterly} where (if the nth element of the x set is odd) then y=”brotherly”; else y=”sisterly”.

I’m sure that a proper mathematician or logician would be able to express this rule more elegantly, but at least this minor discursion took my mind off the heat. Also, since it was an Offertory Hymn, I wondered whether it would be in order to augment the x set with a further element, namely, “cash”, but sadly they hadn’t thought of this.

This logico-hymnological phenomenon has emerged steadily over the years as old choruses, which were originally “one verse wonders” have increasingly been pressed into service as full hymns as their original audience has aged, but the principle goes back a long way. For example, can you remember…

(q is flowing like a river

flowing out to you and me

spreading out into the desert

setting all the captives free).

In this case, q can be substituted with the same members of the set used in the Bilborough chorus in the first example.

Of course, like all logical systems, it is possible for bugs to get into the system. For example, the sets could be corrupted with alien elements, either substituted or added. For example, by adding “soup”, “beer” or substituting “lurve” at some point in the set.

I’d be interested if any readers (if there are any left) have other hymnological algorithms they would like to share with me (and the world) via the comments.

Strict Sabbatarianism on the Web

You have to admire the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland for keeping to their principles: anyone trying to visit their site on a Sunday gets the following…

I tried a superficial attempt to get their server to “break” the sabbath by changing my timezone so that my clock ran ten hours ahead (ie. in Monday), but it wouldn’t play – presumably their site is linked to Scottish time. However, it struck me that the website was, itself, using electricity which had been generated on the sabbath (unless it reverts to battery power). So even by responding to my http request, it was breaking the letter, if not the Spirit, of the law. By the way, I wonder if anyone has told them that the Sabbath Day is on Saturday, and that Jesus was raised on a Sunday – which is hardly a case of God “resting”…

Prayer for Haiti

Foundation sends around prayers via email from time to time. This is one from the UK Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks:

Sovereign of the universe,

We join our prayers to the prayers of others throughout the world, for the victims of the earthquake in Haiti which this week has brought destruction and disaster to many lives.

Almighty God, we pray you, send healing to the injured, comfort to the bereaved, and news to those who sit and wait. May you be with those who even now are engaged in the work of rescue. May You send Your strength to those who are striving to heal the injured, give shelter to the homeless, and bring food and water to those in need. May You bless the work of their hands, and may they merit to save lives.

Almighty God, we recognise how small we are, and how powerless in the face of nature when its full power is unleashed. Therefore, open our hearts in prayer and our hands in generosity, so that our words may bring comfort and our gifts bring aid. Be with us now and with all humanity as we strive to mend what has been injured and rebuild what has been destroyed. Ken Yehi Ratzon, ve-nomar Amen.