Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Bridging the religious gap with a trail of Jif lemon and batter mix.

Happy Jif Lemon Day - the official start of the Creme Egg Season! That climactic weekend of gorging ourselves stupid on our own body weight in chocolate, is now only 40 days away - Let the the countdown begin!

Nobody really understands Pancake Day anymore, apart from a few of our more religious friends who also happen to go to church the following day to have ash crosses painted on their foreheads. There is a huge disconnect today between our ancient festivals which used to mark the pattern of the year and our modern mindset.

Most of them we have happily buried in the past, (I include the idea of having an ash cross daubed on my head) but some we have kept. Pancake Day, or Shrove Tuesday to the real aficionados, incredibly made the cut. When you consider that we have quietly disposed of maypoles, harvest and most of the real meaning of Advent in our urban culture, it is amazing, downright extraordinary that millions will batter pancakes into submission around Britain tonight!

The pre Christmas survey which told us 1 in 5 children in modern Britain believe that Jesus Christ plays football for Chelsea, sums it all up rather well. We are a post christian generation where even the christians don't understand the meaning behind their rituals. When a third of Anglican priests have doubts about the resurrection, is it any wonder that we've ended up with dead religious festivals and no idea of what they point towards? Who is going to tell the doubters and the unconvinced that this is an opportunity to prepare their hearts whilst they also prepare their batter mix? Who is going to let them know that our forefathers celebrated the life, death and resurrection of a mysterious God-man over the Easter weekend, way before we began importing the addictive cocoa bean?

For my money, we should embrace the festivals, make a song and dance of them again, rather than push them to the sidelines. Wouldn't it be ironic if we could use a bit of old fashioned religion to bridge the gap between the truth and the least religious generation in history? If the boys and girls who believe Jesus to be a Premier League footballer are representative of their lost culture, then they are already so far adrift from the biblical worldview that we used to take for granted - That we might more readily engage such distant thinking through old religious festivals which help them join the dots may be just what they need. Like all emerging generations, they don't want us to tell them, they just need a trail to follow. It's our role to creatively communicate and connect this wonderful story to their lives, to lay an enticing path all the way to Easter.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Jesus stories and the British Library....

I love study days in the British Library! Over 170 million items are stored there from all over the world. Each year, every book published in the UK is added to the library, meaning that they grow their collection by three million books per annum, requiring a staggering six miles of extra shelf space - now that is the kind of library I would like to make room for!

Sitting within the main atrium, dwarfed by the towering central shelving unit which rises up the middle of the building like a glass covered skyscraper, I was reminded of the words at the end of John's gospel. 'Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.' John 21.25
Is this just a bit of apostolic hyperbole at the end of an action packed gospel account? I don't think so, and even on this scale, the greatest collection of published works in the British nation can't keep up with the works of Jesus. That's because of something else that John writes - 'Truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.' John 14.12

Greater things? All over the planet since the day of Pentecost, believers in Jesus have been living out and doing 'greater works than these'. Ever since the original twelve gathered round Jesus to excitedly tell the stories of their exploits, having been sent out with nothing but his delegated authority and no expense accounts, tales of Jesus work have been spreading and growing.

Through the centuries books have been written of heroes of the faith. However, the countless ordinary believers who have lived and even died for the glory of Christ in their generation are not generally remembered in writing. Just today, the Chinese church has grown to over 100 million believers and counting (the number has probably gone up exponentially in the time it takes to read this blog) - Imagine the combined account of the works of Jesus in 21st century China alone? It's a work that simply cannot be documented this side of the opening of all the books and annals in glory.

Psalm 145.4 puts it well. 'One generation commends your works to another, they tell of your mighty acts.' Our job description is to tell as many of the stories as we can, but also to gasp in wonder at the incalculable task of collating the as yet unfinished works of the infinite and all powerful Saviour through his church. The vast collections at the British Library are the merest hint at the story which will one day be told, unravelling over unending eternity, and into which we have all been written!