Why the Lord’s Prayer really is dangerous and offensive

The agency that handles British film advertising for the major cinema chains, Odeon, Cineworld and Vue, has banned a Church of England’s advert featuring the Lord’s Prayer because it believes it would upset or offend audiences. I am currently in the process of writing my next book on this short 70-word prayer. For me, the question of “why has this advert been banned?” should be recast as “how can Jesus’s radical call-to-action be seen as anything other than dangerous, offensive and inflammatory?”

Our Father who art in heaven

tutu 1By referring to God as our Father, we are making a statement about God’s loving relationship with us, but we are also saying something profound about our relationships with each other. If God is our father, then we are compelled to treat each other as if we are brothers and sisters. This is a revolutionary call to show love and compassion to those who we don’t get on with and those don’t agree with. It is a call to care for the ill, the poor, the hungry, the disenfranchised, the refugee, the alienated, and the oppressed. As Desmond Tutu puts it: “In God’s family, there are no outsiders. All are insiders. Black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight, Jew and Arab, Palestinian and Israeli, Roman Catholic and Protestant, Serb and Albanian, Hutu and Tutsi, Muslim and Christian, Buddhist and Hindu, Pakistani and Indian – all belong… We are members of one family. We belong… God says, ‘All, all are my children’. It is shocking. It is radical”.

Hallowed by thy name

poor_children04To Jesus’s disciples being “holy” (“hallowed”) would have meant something very different from how we might view the word. In the Old Testament, God’s holiness is frequently related to his role as deliverer and redeemer of the oppressed. The theologian Karl Barth asserts that by praying that God’s name be hallowed, we are asking that we become worthy bearers of God’s name in our loving and compassionate actions. ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy’”, God tells Moses in Leviticus. We have, then, a revolutionary imperative – to stand alongside the poor, to defend the defenceless, to liberate the persecuted, to offer justice to the oppressed, to speak for those with no voice. Holiness is a radical call to action, and not a retreat into inaction.

Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven

This is not an appeal for us to wait for God to reveal himself. It is God who is waiting – he is waiting for us to open our eyes and recognise his kingdom breaking through all around us. God’s kingdom comes to us through those driven by “the imperative for practical service and love” (Rowan Williams). When pain and suffering are countered, the kingdom breaks through. When violence, wealth, power, and prestige are opposed, the kingdom flourishes. When people reach out to those in need, those who are oppressed, and those who feel they have no hope, then God’s will is being done. The revolutionary call of the kingdom is to bring God’s light to the most hopeless and desolate situations.

Give us this day our daily bread

money-bread-16570679_sIn this line we are, first of all, asking God to help us combat poverty. It is commendable that we support food banks and other ventures to help those struggling on the bread line, but it is scandalous that such charities need to exist in the first place. “We are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside,” asserted Martin Luther King, “but one day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed”. Secondly, though, by asking for “daily bread”, we are also asking God to keep us away from wealth. The predominant ‘story’ that our society teaches us is that money matters, that it is worth something, that it is something we should be desiring. Christians are called to question this myth of money incarnate, and offer a liberating alternative. After all, the gospel of grace and selflessness surely stands in direct opposition to the financial law of supply and demand.

Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us

forgive“Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive”, asserted CS Lewis. Forgiveness is difficult, but it is what God expects from us. It is part and parcel of what it means to be Christian. It’s not an optional extra for us. It is, though, radical and revolutionary. After all, forgiveness is far harder and braver than retaliation and hatred. But we do get a pay-off through forgiveness. By forgiving, we are released from our personal prisons, to move forward and onward in our lives. The Huffington Post recently reported that many in the Middle East are turning towards forgiveness, rather than retribution, for the terrible crimes of Islamic State. “I won’t do anything to them,” one young Christian refugee said after seeing her community and family decimated by the group, “I will only ask God to forgive them”.

Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil

moneyTemptations promise us joy and fulfilment. Our faith, though, teaches us the radical truth that we are being sold a lie. The comedian Russell Brand was drawn at an early age into a world of wealth, fame, and excess. “I was treating a spiritual malady… I was actually seeking salvation”, he writes. It is not easy for us to grasp that lasting joy and fulfilment will not be found in those places where we have been told excitement, fun, and fulfilment comes from. Brand writes that he sometimes sees old photographs of himself emerging from London nightclubs with blonde women on his arms. “I can still be deceived into thinking, ‘Wow, I’d like to be him’, then I remember that I was him”, he concludes. Temptation merely promises us fleeting joy; faith reminds us that a deeply satisfying life can only be found in spiritual peace. This is a message that our world does not want to hear; it is a truth that our world does not want to face.

For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory

In 1975, a team of students from Manchester University subverted BBC’s quiz University Challenge by answering every question they were asked with the name of a Communist leader: “Karl Marx”, “Trotsky”, “Lenin”, “Che Guevara”, and so on. As Christians, though, the answer to all our questions really is “Jesus”. He offers life, he offers a new way of thinking, he offers a profound transformation in our understanding of the concept of power. His is not extrinsic power, foisted on us all from outside, compelling us to be obedient. His is, rather, an intrinsic authority, persuading us and inspiring us to join him on a revolution of compassion. As we face terror on the streets of Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere, the Lord’s Prayer is a dangerous, radical alternative to today’s powers of military muscle, violent extremism, fleeting fame, and rapacious wealth. But Jesus offers a different kingdom, a different power, a different glory. Jesus offers radical and revolutionary love.

To view the Church of England’s advert: www.youtube.com/watch?v=vlUXh4mx4gI&

 

“Camels leaping through needles”: Jesus, Exaggeration, and Hyperbole

hyperbole 1When I was growing up my dad had numerous phrases that used to annoy me – “this house is lit up like a Christmas tree”, “you know money doesn’t grow on trees”, and “if your friend put their hand in the fire would you put yours in?” The one that used to infuriate me more than any other, though, was: “how many thousands of times have I told you not to exaggerate?!” Now I’m older, and my life involves preaching and writing, I realise the dramatic importance of exaggeration and hyperbole. Exaggeration is, of course, not always a good thing, but, as long as we recognise that this technique is being used, it can certainly be helpful. Even as a child, I knew that money didn’t literally grow on trees, but the phrase taught me something about the value of not squandering what we have. And I never literally saw a friend put his hand into a fire, but the phrase help teach me to resist peer pressure. And leaving my bedroom light on doesn’t literally look like dozens of sparkling lights on a Christmas tree, but the phrase helped me to recognise the impact that wasting electricity has on the environment.

Camel 2In the Bible, Jesus uses exaggeration and hyperbole on numerous occasions, as he connected with his listeners by expressing deep truths in a nonliteral manner. He came from a Jewish tradition that was steeped in this technique of writing and speaking. “You are all together beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you”, asserts the Song of Songs in the Old Testament (Song 4:7). I’m sure Solomon’s beloved was stunningly beautiful, but even the very best of us have a couple of flaws! By Jesus’ time, hyperbole was a technique used by some rabbis, the teachers of the day. Jesus, though, particularly employed this technique, often as a way of grabbing his audience’s attention or to shock them into recognising the deep truth he was asserting. As G.K. Chesterton put it, “Christ had even a literary style of his own; the diction used by Christ is quite curiously gigantesque – it is full of camels leaping through needles and mountains hurled into the sea”.

eyesThe Sermon on the Mount has many such examples. When Jesus refers to lust, for example, he says “if your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away… and if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell”. This passage clearly shouldn’t be taken literally, not least because its literal fulfilment won’t achieve the desired goal anyway. One of my closest and oldest friends has been blind since childhood, and I remember once discussing this passage with him. “Believe me, Trystan”, he said over his pint of beer, “tearing someone’s eyes out won’t stop them lusting!”

no-means-noWhile such a statement should not be taken literally, it should still be taken seriously. This passage teaches us something far deeper, far more radical about God’s kingdom. Everything we do, Jesus is telling us, has profound effects on both others and ourselves. Objectifying those of the opposite sex is not something that has no consequences. It can hurt and damage people directly, and can also damage society. We are left with daily news reports about sexual abuse, human trafficking, and rape and assault, while young people of both sexes are pressurised into a stereotype of how they should be acting in relationships and are given impossible ideals of how they should be looking.

man-praying1Jesus’ exaggerated statements in the Sermon on the Mount, then, are not to be taken literally. But neither are those statements trying to make us feel guilt or hatred towards ourselves. Instead, they are trying to encourage us to recognise the radical nature of God’s kingdom and the impact that should have on how we think and act. In my last blog post, I emphasised the importance of us looking outside of ourselves to stand alongside those oppressed by gender, race, and ethnicity. But we need also to look inside of ourselves at our own personal issues, be they lust, anger, envy, hatred, selfishness, or material greed. How we think and how we act in our daily lives has an impact, not only on our own wellbeing and on other individuals, but also on our society and on our environment. If we really want to challenge the world, we must start with challenging ourselves. And if we really want to change the world, we must start with changing ourselves.

Does being a Christian make us any more loving and compassionate?

lampshade - the one we got! It’s over three months now since we moved house and, considering we had Christmas and a new baby in that time, we’ve done pretty well in sorting the Vicarage out. Last week, we even got lampshades sorted in the rooms. They were delivered to the house and my wife and I put them up in the morning. Later in the day, I was sitting in the living room with a fellow vicar, under the glow of a wonderful new lampshade (the very one in the photo!). As we were chatting, my 7-year-old daughter came back from school and burst into the room. She looked straight up at the lampshade and stood staring up at it in appreciation. I reminded her that she should have first greeted us when she walked into the room. “Don’t just look up, look across as well”, I said. Quick as a flash, my colleague said “well there’s the sermon for next week!” We both laughed and got on with our meeting, but those words I said stayed with me – “don’t just look up, look across as well”.

IsaiahAs I was reading Isaiah 58 yesterday, I realised that there was not only a sermon but also a blog post in that little phrase! In that chapter God explains to his people why he is so displeased with them. They have certainly been carrying out their religious observances and duties – they have been fasting, praying, and keeping God’s commandments. The problem is, however, that they have also been exploiting their workers, oppressing the poor, being unwelcoming to the stranger, ignoring the hungry, and refusing to house the homeless. In other words, in Isaiah God is saying: “don’t just look up at me, look across at my children as well”.

Cardiff University ChaplaincyThis got me asking myself what difference our faith makes in our lives. I remember talking to one rather vocal atheist student when I was chaplain of Cardiff University and he said something that has stayed with me ever since. He charmed me by telling me what a good and compassionate person I was, but he didn’t finish there. “Yes, you’re a good, kind person, but that’s just who you are and it’s not necessarily anything to do with your faith – are you trying to tell me that, if you weren’t Christian, you’d suddenly become cruel and uncompassionate? So, basically, what’s the point of your faith?” I still find those words challenging. After all, if we are to call ourselves followers of Christ, then it must make a positive, loving, and life-affirming difference in our lives.

teabagAt the crux of this is the question whether being a Christian makes us any more loving and compassionate? Or does our faith make no difference to us outside of the hour each week that we give to going to church? Attending a church should make a huge difference to our lives, but it only does this if we allow it. It’s like having a teabag and a mug of hot water. The tea is a weekly church visit, and the water is the rest of the week. There’s no point keeping that teabag separate from the water. In fact, the tea bag is pretty useless without water. In other words, a church visit is useless if it doesn’t have an impact on each of our daily lives. So, we need to let the tea infuse the water; we need to let our faith enthuse every moment of our week – every conversation we have and every decision we make. If we don’t, we may as well stay in bed on Sunday morning. If our faith makes a difference in our daily lives, then it is priceless; if it doesn’t have any impact, then it is worthless.

The reality is, of course, that all of us are too often like the Israelites in Isaiah 58. We try desperately to allow our faith to make a difference, but end up getting our priorities completely wrong. The stand that we take as Christians on things that we think are important, blinds us from the things that really are important. Someone recently said to me how great it was that the Church can still get on front page of newspapers in its defence of “our beliefs and values”. Unfortunately, the Church’s priorities are often misplaced, and those so-called “beliefs and values” rarely reflect the heart of Jesus’s teaching. While we are busy discussing women bishops, gay marriage, and the loss of Christian influence in this country, the real message of the gospel, the message of liberation, grace, hope, peace, and joy, gets left behind. Sometimes I feel we are like the Russian Orthodox Church in 1917 – while the revolution was raging all around them, they were holding councils to discuss liturgical colours.

WWJDOur call, then, is to realign our priorities. One way of doing that is to ask ourselves those four little words that used to adorn many teenage bracelets in the US – ‘what would Jesus do?’ The phrase has almost become a parody, but that shouldn’t mask the importance of reflecting on the question. Where would Jesus’s priorities be channelled if he were living today? Would he, nicene creed or doctrinal confession in hand, be desperate to root out those whose theology was not the same as his? Would he be bemoaning the fact that this country is becoming more multi-cultural and mixed-faith? Would he rile against those same-sex couples who want to commit themselves to a lifetime of love and faithfulness? Would he be worrying about a person of a different gender to him being in a spiritual position of authority? OR would he be actually be more concerned with living out the love and compassion that is so missing in so many lives in today’s world? Would he be standing alongside those seeking asylum, the hungry, victims of domestic violence, victims of human trafficking, those in prison, those in hospitals and hospices, those campaigning for the environment, victims of sexual abuse, and those oppressed by gender, race, or ethnicity?

leastAlthough it is dangerous to put any words into Jesus’s mouth, there is no doubt that he would identify with these groups. This can be seen in Matthew 25, which scholars tell us Jesus said with Isaiah 58 in mind. “‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’” So, when we do live out our faith in our everyday lives and when we let our hour on Sunday infuse and enthuse the rest of our week, this is exactly what we will be doing – finding God in everyone we meet and treating them as if they were Jesus himself. That rather changes that phrase that we started with: “don’t just look up, look across as well”. The paradox is that when we look across at our neighbours, we actually are looking up, because we are looking at him! So, don’t just look up at him, but look across at him as well.

“Love reminds us why”: God and the mystery of suffering

“Pain may well remind us that we are alive, but love reminds us why we are alive” (Trystan Owain Hughes)

“Pain may remind us that we are alive, but love reminds us why we are alive” (Trystan Owain Hughes)

Since Wm Paul Young chose to include this quotation from my book Finding Hope and Meaning in Suffering in his book Cross Roads, the follow-up to his multi-million best-seller The Shack, I have had enquiries from as far as Sweden, Brazil and Australia asking me about where the quotation appears in my book. As I recently stumbled across that same quotation on a wonderful picture by the Disney fine artist Noah, I thought that this might be the time to post on this blog the section of my book (pp. 16-17) that includes the quotation.

“Pain may remind us that we are alive, but love reminds us why we are alive” (Trystan Owain Hughes)Finding Hope and Meaning was written when I was diagnosed, at the age of 34, with a degenerative spinal condition. Health is the one quality that is widely regarded as determining a person’s happiness and fulfilment. Despite pain and frustration, though, my illness inspired me to reflect on where meaning and hope can be sought in our suffering and then to apply the fruits of this reflection in my day-to-day life. The book, therefore, does not try to offer a comprehensive theology of suffering, but it simply muses on one personal way of approaching suffering, a way that affirms the paradox that learning how to suffer and how to wait patiently is the secret of finding joy and hope in our lives. When reading the following, then, please keep in mind that it is taken out of context, so may not, without the rest of the book, do justice to the complexity and horror of our pain and suffering.

“Pain may remind us that we are alive, but love reminds us why we are alive” (Trystan Owain Hughes)“The concept of growth through the long wait of our suffering is not specifically Christian.  Other world religions, contemporary psychology, and secular culture in general recognises that meaning, formation, and development can be forged through trials and troubles.  ‘It’s only when you’ve been in the deepest valley,’ mused Anthony Hopkins in his role as Richard Nixon in the film Nixon, ‘will you ever know how magnificent it is to be on the highest mountain’.

“Pain may remind us that we are alive, but love reminds us why we are alive” (Trystan Owain Hughes)The uniqueness of the Christian response to suffering is, however, found in the centrality of God’s grace. As such, we are faced with yet another paradox. The tears and tragedy of the cross is a sign of God’s love for us precisely because it guarantees His loving presence in our own tears and tragedies. God is love, and just a glimpse of that love can powerfully illuminate the darkness that we are going through.  ‘And here in dust and dirt, O here,’ wrote the Welsh seventeenth-century poet Henry Vaughan, ‘The lilies of His love appear’.

“Pain may remind us that we are alive, but love reminds us why we are alive” (Trystan Owain Hughes)

We can, then, aim to draw closer to God’s love in the midst of our suffering. Pain may well remind us that we are alive, but love reminds us why we are alive. Thus, we need to re-train our minds to recognise those times in our daily lives when God’s light breaks through our darkness – times we hitherto have taken for granted or ignored. These moments have a cumulative ability to transform, illuminate, and bring us hope. Held as a hostage for many years in a dark room in Beirut, Brian Keenan recalls how he made a candle from small pieces of wax and string from his clothing fibres. ‘Quietly, calmly a sense of victory welled up in me’, he later wrote, ‘and I thought to myself without saying it, “They haven’t beat us yet. We can blot out even their darkness”’. Light, of course, does not avoid darkness. Rather, it confronts it head-on.  ‘The light shines in the darkness’, asserts the Gospel of John 1:5, ‘but the darkness has not understood it’. Likewise, love’s concern is not the avoidance of suffering, but rather its transformation, as our painful experiences become productive and strengthen us.

Jesus certainly knew that the existence of evil and suffering was a mystery to humankind. He would have been well-acquainted with the book of Job and with the psalms of sorrow, and he stood before his people as the suffering servant of Isaiah.  Yet, he himself was more concerned to proclaim the mystery of love than give hollow platitudes about the mystery of suffering.  Love, like suffering, cannot truly be explained. It can, however, be experienced.”

“Pain may remind us that we are alive, but love reminds us why we are alive” (Trystan Owain Hughes)

Are you sitting comfortably? Christmas and the wonder of story

hailA few days ago, I attended my 12-year-old son’s school Christmas concert. While his is not a church school, the event took place at a local church. My son was taking the role of a shepherd from Bethlehem, trying to explain to his boss why he had lost all his sheep after he and his mates had run into town to find a child in a stable. He insisted that he had nothing to do with the cut-price lamb being sold in town the following morning, and he swore that he’d not been drinking when he had heard great noises and seen lights in the sky. While he was performing, Cardiff was hit with the most ferocious hailstorm that I have seen in years. So, as he said the words “there were great noises in the sky”, the heavens opened and the church’s stained-glass windows sounded like they were about to shatter. I overheard one parent say to another on the way out, “I loved the wonderful sound effects when the shepherd was speaking!”

We hear so much these days about rechristening Christmas as the “winter festival”, but this event, based in a church and introduced by the local vicar, was very much rooted in faith. Or perhaps it’s more correct to say it was based around a story – a story of a newborn that gives flesh, heart, and spirit to all our hopes and desires, all our needs and wants.

The Hobbit JackanoryI have always loved stories. I remember running home from school as a child, out of breath and with legs aching, because I didn’t want to miss the TV programme Jackanory, where a famous person sat in a big armchair and read from a children’s novels. When I go out to visit schools now, despite all the technology available, I’ve noticed that school children still love to sit and listen to teacher simply reading a good storybook, just as they love to hear a nighttime story from mum or dad.

The reality is, of course, that people of all ages get stories and people have always loved telling and hearing stories – from amphitheatres of the Greeks and Romans to the Elizabethan plays of Shakespearean England. The popularity of TV programmes, soap operas, films, and books bear witness to the fact that stories are still a language people can understand. If we, as a church, want to connect with generations that are seemingly lost from our congregations, we need to be looking to story.

With all this in mind, I’ve often been tempted simply to tell a ten-minute story instead of a sermon on a Sunday morning. I wonder if I’d get complaints? “There’s not enough exegesis”; “there’s not enough teaching”. The lack of explanation in Jesus’ parables, of course, would have confused some people, but he urges us in the Parable of the Sower to make our own interpretations. “Blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear”.

parablesIn fact, the writer Rob Lacey made a detailed assessment of Jesus’s words and teaching. In his book Are we Getting Through?, he concluded that Jesus spoke to the general public in two different ways: he either told stories or he asked questions. These stories were memorable, intriguing, and vivid, using images and objects that the people of his day could identify with (sheep, coins, trees, vineyards). Yet, in the two thousand years since Jesus, the church seems to have decided it knows better. Our church services rarely include stories, not even in many of our sermons! Furthermore, we Christians are far more inclined to give answers than ask questions.

the bibleAnd it’s not only Jesus either. Our faith is founded on story. The recent Channel 5 series The Bible has shown just some of the wonderful tales of faith and courage from Genesis through to Revelation. Story is integral to our faith, from Adam and Eve, Abraham, Joseph and his colourful coat, Moses, David and Goliath, and Samson and Delilah, to the stories of Christmas and Easter, the parables, and the adventures of St Paul. And the great thing about these magnificent stories of our faith is that every story has two levels – two “storeys”, if you like. In other words, they have the story itself, wonderful and fantastical. But, beyond that, is another level, another “storey” – and that is how does the story speak to us? What profound and eternal truths can we take from the story?

tell-me-a-storySo, this Christmas, why not do two things. First, why not start to really listen to stories. After all, God speaks to us through stories. Ask yourself, what is he saying to you? Allow his story to inform the stories you engage with – the story of a small child born in a dirty stable, a story of hope, a story of peace, a story of love. How does that story relate to the stories you listen to? How can the stories you hear inform your faith, teach your faith, challenge your faith.

But, secondly, I challenge you to tell stories this Christmas. You’ll be with your friends and families, so have the confidence to share stories with them – tales that you find fascinating yourself or tales of your own life. My own daughter is obsessed with stories of my childhood. Almost every dinnertime, she will suddenly say: “Tell me a story of when you were young, daddy”. I must admit, I’m running out of little-mischievous-Trys stories by now, and am tempted to start making some up! But it’s not only children – in the same way that my daughter loves hearing my stories, when I go to visit parishioners I love hearing their stories about their lives and families.

we-all-have-stories-to-tellBut, in telling stories this Christmas, why not also allow those stories to interact with the spirit of the festive season. Share stories, ones you have read or seen on television, and explain how they have inspired you towards Christ’s hope, compassion, and forgiveness. But, perhaps most importantly, tell your own personal stories by letting people know how your lives have been transformed by his story – the eternal story of peace and love that began when “the hopes and fears of all the years” were met in the cry of a newborn.

Related articles

Unto us a child is born: A new baby at Christmas

Christmas is Coming: But do we really need the nativity story?

Things-with-Wings: A Christmas Reflection

Pencils in the Hand of God

Christmas is Coming: But do we really need the nativity story?

AdventMost of us look forward to Christmas each year. A recent poll revealed why people continue to love the festive season. The reasons were varied – time with family, giving gifts, the food and drink, catching up with old friends, watching children opening their presents, good television, and so on. The “real meaning” of Christmas, however, was positioned lower down in the list. For many, Christ is slowly being relegated from the Christ-mas season.

ricky gervais christmasIn a promotional video for their internet podcast, which has been downloaded over 300 million times, the comedian Ricky Gervais quizzes his radio producer and friend Karl Pilkington on the significance of the nativity story. Pilkington’s answer is revealing and reflects an increasing trend in society’s attitude towards the festive season: ‘[The nativity] is not important. It’s so not important this story. I don’t need an old story… I could do without it. If someone said we’re getting rid of it, I’d go “all right”’.

Those of us who are Christian, though, know very well that the nativity is not simply an ancient story from a dusty old book. The incarnation is about experiencing Christ now. A wonderful consequence of the ‘Word made flesh’ is that Jesus is still involved in a dynamic relationship with the world. After all, God did not only reside in human form for a fleeting thirty-three years, but is still engaged in every part of our everyday lives.

Real God in the Real WorldThe BRF Advent book for 2013, Real God in the Real World, encourages us to use our festive season to recognise Christ in the world around us – not only in our prayer and worship, but also in the beauty of nature, in the friends and family with whom we celebrate the season, and in our everyday activities over the Christmas period and beyond.

Each day we are given a thoughtful consideration of a Bible passage. This will explore the passage through poetry, literature, film, or a lively anecdote, as the scripture is brought to new life. Each day also includes a practical application of the passage’s reflection, to aid us in discovering Jesus’s presence over the festive season. Thus, as we journey through Christmas together, we will start to open our eyes, ears, and hearts to Christ all around us, and, as we do, we will find that the Word is still becoming flesh today!

Real God in the Real World can be purchased directly from BRF, from Amazon, or from your local bookstore. It can be used as for personal reflection or, by using the group discussion questions at the back of the book, it could be used in an Advent group.

Advent 2

Lost and Found: BBC Radio 2 and Pause for Thought

Earlier this month, BBC Radio 2 aired two “Pause for Thoughts” which I wrote and recorded for them. As the BBC hold the copyright on spiritual reflections that are aired on their shows, I am not allowed to reproduce them word-for-word here. However, for those of you who missed the broadcasts, I thought I’d give you some idea of what I said, while still keeping on the correct side of copyright law!

Anneka RiceThe first “Pause for Thought” was aired on Anneka Rice‘s show. It was on the subject of “lost and found” and was broadcast on the first full day of this year’s National Eisteddfod in Denbigh in North Wales. The Eisteddfod is a wonderfully uplifting Welsh language festival of music, literature, and performance. If you try to imagine the Edinburgh Fringe crossed with the Glastonbury festival, then place it in a big field in Wales, you’ll be some way to picturing the Eisteddfod. While the performances in the big tent take place through the medium of Welsh, there are enough fascinating events and stalls for the festival to appeal also to non-Welsh-speakers, and many hundreds cross the border to experience this unique event.

eisteddfodWhen I was younger, I remember being enthralled by the music, literature, dance, theatre, and food as I wandered around the huge field. It is a wonderful celebration of Wales’ heritage, where old and new, traditional and modern, stand side-by-side. The festival started in the twelfth century, but was reintroduced in ninteenth century in an attempt to revive an under-threat language and culture. This centuries-old festival was almost lost, but now is being reinvented in a lively, engaging, and vibrant manner.

golfI was thinking about this recently and it dawned on me how many things I’d personally lost down the years – not only the countless objects I’d misplaced, but also skills I’d left unused and friendships to which I’d not given enough time. My thoughts drew me to dig out my dusty, old golf clubs and call an old golfing friend. I felt revived and rejuvenated as I played my first round in ten years. Even my dreadful score didn’t detract from an inspiring and uplifting few hours, as I caught up with all my friend’s news and enjoyed the beautiful countryside.

lost and foundWhile we sometimes lose things we will never get back, other things inspire new life in us when we discover them again. In many of his parables (the lost sheep, the lost coin, the prodigal son, etc), Jesus talks about the joy we can feel at finding things that we thought was lost, a joy that God himself feels when things precious to him are rescued. Perhaps all of us should consider rescuing something that used to be precious to us, so as to bring a little more joy into our everyday lives – we could explore a language that we used to speak, reignite a friendship that had been lost in the busy-ness of life, or reaquaint ourselves with a sport or musical instrument we used to play. We might not all be talented enough to get to the Eisteddfod stage, but we can at least take comfort in the fact that we too can rejoice with God that something that was once lost has now been found!