Archive for January, 2011

I love long-haul plane flights.  No kidding.  Love them.

It’s 24 hours where no-one expects anything from you. You slouch in your seat and play video-games while long-suffering helpers serve your merest whim.  It’s like being a teenager all over again.

And the guiltiest of all pleasures – you allow yourself to watch Truly Terrible films.

And so to Eat Pray Love.  Emma lasted about 20 minutes.  I very nearly walked out.  But I endured to the end.  And now I know why Mark Kermode’s review was four words: Eat Pray Love Vomit.

The thing is Eat Pray Love should be a little slice of heaven.  As Jonathan Edwards almost said, Heaven is a world of eat pray love.

The trouble with Julia Roberts’ eating, praying and loving is that all the verbs are in the reflexive.  And so it’s a vision of hell.

Roberts’ character (Liz Gilbert) divorces her hapless husband for no particular reason other than his geeky romanticism.  She then decides she needs an extended period of me-time.  She eats in Italy.  Prays in India.  And finds love in Bali.  But the object of all these activities is most definitely herself.

Using ground-breaking technology, the dialogue was written using Google’s Random-Sanskrit-Aphorism-Generator.  But the translation breaks down fairly regularly, e.g. phrases like “quest dynamics” and “To lose balance sometimes for love is part of living a balanced life”.  But those with a passing knowledge of the Oprahic languages should catch the gist.

Perhaps the film hits its nadir with its advice towards the end:

“Never let anyone love you less than you love yourself” – truly the spirit of antichrist.

The most disturbing scene comes from Richard Jenkins’ character in India.  His advice to Liz throughout has been to stay at the Ashram until she learns to forgive herself.  But it’s a lesson he’s found impossible to apply to himself and so we hear a genuinely moving account of his alcoholism and family break-down.  He’s flown across the world and put himself through a thousand spiritual disciplines in order to find forgiveness.

The gospel has bad news and good news for him.  Bad news:  forgiveness is outside him. It cannot be self-bestowed.  Good news: Christ freely gives it.

But the film painfully portrays the prison of self.  And no-one escapes it.  By the end, everyone is richer, fatter and more Satanic.

There’s only one saving grace.  The film is so utterly grotesque it ought to wake people up to the bankruptcy of its vision.

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Don’t just teach your youth the bible.

Teach them Christ in the bible.

Can you imagine if he’d tried to unify the bible with any other grand theme?  We’d have said, “Cor, that kid’s got a good memory!”  Or “Gosh, that’s an interesting common denominator.”

Instead he preaches Christ and we say “What a Saviour!”



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Let us fix our eyes on Jesus!” – Hebrews 12:2

For every look at self—take ten looks at Christ!

–Robert Murray McCheyne

Hin-Tai and Chris have a brilliant new blog that you should all add to your readers.  It promises to be Christ-centred, trinitarian, affective  and pastoral.  Four thumbs up.

In his latest post, Hin-Tai wrestles with the desire to have a Christ-exalting blog while resisting the self-absorbing pull of blogging.

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Happy Friday

I’m not all about the cheap laugh you know…


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I wrote the following 2 years ago as Emma was suffering from terrible gastro complaints.  Unfortunately her problems are as debilitating today as they were then.  And the lessons we were learning then we’re having to reapply to our hearts every day.  Chronic illness remains an affront to the flesh.  Our natural desire is to control life through human effort.  But this means that illness is a great occasion to re-learn and re-apply the gospel to our hearts.

Emma says it much better herself with this post: Patience with patients.  But here’s my older post…


In the last month Emma’s been in and out of hospital 3 times (she’s in at the moment) and I’ve consistently had man-flu.

It’s struck me very forcibly how offensive illness is to our fleshly sensibilities.  Just speaking of my own meagre maladie, here’s the sort of thing said to me on a daily basis:

[Shocked] Haven’t you seen a doctor then?

[Tutting] Haven’t you been taking your medication?

[Frowning] Haven’t you been inhaling hot lemon and eucalyptus like I told you?

[Disappointed] Haven’t you rubbed menthol on your chest and belched La Marseillaise?

[Appalled]  Elderflower, saffron and moose hair Glen – that’s what I keep telling you.  How long will you choose frailty over my curse-proof stratagems??

Maybe I’m imagining it, but I often sense a note of anger in the advice of others regarding illness.  It doesn’t fit our view of the world for people to just get sick.  We need to believe that there are practical reasons for the suffering and dependable remedies to fix it.

When our friends have an illness that doesn’t budge, it actually becomes very threatening.  It forces a collision between two strong emotions.  On the one hand there’s deep love and concern for your friend who’s suffering.  But on the other is an un-named but powerful belief that life will work for us if we act smart, work hard, keep trusting God and never give up.  Of course this entails the belief that bad stuff is preventable if we’re prepared, persistent and prayerful enough.  And so when our friend is sick, and stubbornly sick… well… you love ’em.  But deep down you know that somewhere, somehow they’ve done it to themselves.  (“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” John 9:1)

Of course the battle is there in the sufferer too.  We end up suffering double when we believe the lie that all bad stuff is preventable.  Not only do we face the illness, we face bitter self-flaggelation for succumbing in the first place.

Both sufferer and comforter should stop being surprised by the fiery trial (1 Pet 4:12).  We must ditch this ridiculous belief in our curse-proof stratagems.  Let’s comfort one another as those who know we are east of Eden and the Suffering Servant is the only way back.


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Words eh?

This week I had a couple of chuckles over the words people had chosen.

First was an email from an internet accountability site.  It told me that a friend had accessed websites that were “Highly Mature.”  Judging by the domain names, “infantile” would have been a much better description.  There’s nothing adult about porn.

The second chuckle came when meeting one-to-one with  pastors in Eastbourne to discuss evangelism.  Two different pastors from two different churches have told me exactly the same thing:

We don’t like to use the word evangelism.  It scares people.  We don’t have an “Evangelism team” any more, we have a “Witness team.”

I fully agree that “evangelism” scares people.  And “witness” sounds much nicer.  But once you know the meaning of the two words, it’s a tad ironic…

We don’t like to be good news bearers, we’d much rather be martyrs!

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What Brene Brown says:

Connection is why we’re here

But shame = fear of disconnection

Everyone has shame. The only people without shame have no capacity for empathy

No one wants to talk about shame but the less you talk about it, the more you have it

For connection to happen you have to be allowed to be seen


Those who are connected have a sense of worthiness, a strong sense of love and belonging

They exhibit these factors

Courage (wholeheartedness) to be imperfect

Compassion to be kind to themselves first and then to others

Connection as a result of authenticity.  They let go of who they *should* be to be who they are.

Fully embraced vulnerability – what made them vulnerable made them beautiful


We numb vulnerability

We are the most in debt, obese, addicted and medicated cohort in US history

So we numb it

Trouble is, you cannot selectively numb emotion

We make the uncertain certain

This is what religion and politics have become

We perfect

We pretend – that what we do doesn’t have an effect on people


What we need is to…

Let ourselves be seen

Love with our whole hearts

Practice gratitude, lean into joy

Believe I am enough



Inspiring stuff.  Some apt observations.  But let’s think for a second.  Isn’t this an empirical researcher urging us to have metaphysical convictions.  We need to believe certain things.  And we need to believe them because they seem to work.

Isn’t this basically “the power of positive thinking” dressed up a bit?

We want connection, we feel shame, but we need to open up nonetheless because that’s what the wholehearted do, and we do so on the basis of the belief that we’re worthy of love and belonging.

That last bit seems key for this whole thing to work.  But where does it come from?

If I had 5 minutes to talk about vulnerability I think I’d want to take three looks at the cross:

Look 1: Here is the LORD of Glory crucified.  Is vulnerability a fundamental value?  You bet.  Our God was dissected on full view of the world.  His vulnerability is glorious.  Our vulnerability is God-like.

Look 2: Here is where our sin takes us.  And yes I said sin not just shame.  We aren’t just held back by ‘fear of connection’ but by dark hearts full of lust and murder.  We do not deserve connection but cutting off.  Without looking at things through this lens we dress the wound lightly.  “Embracing mess and authenticity” sounds like a meaningful Saturday afternoon with college friends around Lattes.  Not the diagnosis that can handle, for instance, the addictions Brown mentions.

Look 3: Here is the Lord’s love for the dark-hearted.  Unconditional, counter-conditional grace for the disconnected. Brown hopes we’ll value ourselves first and then others.  But deserved love is not the sort of love we’re inclined to pass on.  “I’m worth it” terminates on me.  It’s only grace that really spreads.


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