Pick a card!

cards

My former boss presented me with this little beauty the other day. I was chuffed to see it, because it’s really cool and because I worked on it about two years ago, and I was beginning to wonder whether it would ever see the light of day. It’s three things in one:

  1. A set of 52 great youthwork ideas.
  2. A cunning marketing tool for YFC’s youth resources.
  3. A pack of cards. (You know. Like you play cards with…)

If you want to get your hands on one of these packs, try emailing resources@yfc.co.uk or tweeting @YFC_Resources. Tell them I sent you. (It probably won’t make any difference to how they treat you, but tell them anyway.)

Child witches?

I’ve been doing some work recently for the Stop Child Witch Accusations coalition, as part of my role with BCT. This is an issue that not many people are talking about, but far more should be. In some parts of Africa – and amongst African diaspora communities in the UK – it is frighteningly common for children to be accused of witchcraft. The logic goes that if you fall ill or lose your job, if the harvest fails or there isn’t enough money to go around, it must be because a witch has cursed you. Sadly, children tend to be an easy target for accusations of witchcraft. The underlying causes of all this are very complex, but these groundless accusations almost always lead to the kid in question being neglected, beaten, abused, humiliated or abandoned. It’s an absolutely horrible phenomenon, and I’m really glad that SCWA are doing something about it. I’m even more glad that my role allows me to be a small part of this project.

To find out more about child witch accusations and how you can help to stop them, check out the SCWA website. You can find ‘Stop Child Witch Accusations’ on Facebook and Twitter, too.

Bethany Children’s Trust

I’ve already made a noise about this on Facebook and Twitter, so forgive me if you’ve already heard all you need to hear. But I’m tickled pink to say that I’ve just accepted a year-long contract to look after communications for the Bethany Children’s Trust. They’re a smashing group of people who do some crucial work in helping kids to fulfill their God-given potential. The stuff they’re doing in Africa is particularly exciting. BCT are a small charity but everyone should hear about what they’re up to. And of course, my job is to make that happen!

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps

This morning, I opened my Bible and found myself reading 1 Samuel 14. Just in case you don’t immediately know the contents of 1 Samuel 14 off the top of your head, allow me to precis it. Jonathan, son of King Saul, encounters an outpost of the Philistine army, the enemies of Israel. He turns to his armour-bearer and says, ‘I reckon we can have them. What do you say?’ (Or words to that effect.) Actually, his exact words are, ‘Perhaps the Lord will act on our behalf.’ The armour bearer thinks for a minute, then replies, ‘Yeah. Sounds good to me. Let’s get them.’ So off go our two heroes. They scale a cliff and put 20 Philistines to the sword. And the rest of the Philistine army are so rattled that they start attacking each other. A famous Israelite victory follows.

Let’s just pause here for a minute. This all started with a ‘perhaps’. This was a seriously bloody dangerous thing for our two guys to try, and it all rested on, ‘Perhaps the Lord will act on our behalf.’ No certainty. No guarantee of success. A violent and unpleasant death was entirely possible. But they took a chance on a ‘perhaps’.

You’ll find something similar in other places in the Bible. In Daniel 3, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are about to be chucked into a furnace. They tell the king that God is able to save them, then follow up that assertion with, ‘But even if he doesn’t…’ There’s still a very real possibility that God might choose not to save them. And fast forward to the New Testament. The newly-formed Church are scratching their heads about how Jews and non-Jews are supposed to fit in the same movement. After due prayer and consideration, their response includes, ‘It seemed good to the Holy Spirit…’ Just a minute. It seemed good? The entire future of the Church is at stake, and it rests on ‘seemed’?

Then again, it’s so often like that for us, too. Occasionally, very, very occasionally, we might get a lightning bolt and a booming voice from heaven, telling us exactly what we should do. Most of the time we don’t. We get a ‘perhaps’; a slow hunch, a feeling in our guts, an idea that something makes sense. Even when the stakes are high, when our future, our security and our hopes rest on our decision and God’s help, we so rarely get a guarantee that God will come through for us the way we expect. That’s faith for you. The funny thing is, if we go with the ‘perhaps’, God almost always turns out to be faithful. That’s been my experience over the last few months, anyway. Things have been dicey at times – particularly with cash flow – but God has provided. Sometimes all we get is ‘perhaps’. But life can be strangely exhilarating if you’re not 100% sure what’s coming next.

Finally a decent Hallowe’en resource!

lightparty

When I was approached to create a youth session for Scripture Union’s Light Party Pack, I was glad of the work but slightly wary. There has been a lot of Christian material written in response to Hallowe’en before which is actually pretty dreadful. It’s not the theology of it which I have a problem with. I can understand the common evangelical tendency to have nothing to do with Hallowe’en (and to spend October 31st hiding from trick-or-treaters). My issue is that a lot of material along these lines is monumentally cheesy.

So it came as a relief when I saw the finished product and discovered it was fun, down-to-earth and well thought-out. But then, I should have expected nothing less from Scripture Union and particularly from my friend Alex, who project managed it. You can get your hands on a free copy of the Light Party Pack here. Off you go.

God is not a git

There’s no getting away from it, the Ten Plagues of Egypt make for uncomfortable reading. The poor, unsuspecting citizens of ancient Egypt are subjected to disease, famine, infestations of all sorts of pests, pitch darkness and the death of their first-born sons, apparently at the hands of a mightily ticked-off God. And the argument that it’s all ultimately Pharaoh’s fault because of his stubborn refusal to free the Hebrew slaves just doesn’t hold water – there’s a clear implication that it was God who made him stubborn in the first place.

This is a classic example of a Bible passage used, not just by Dawkins and his acolytes, but by anyone with an ounce of intellectual courage, to suggest that maybe God might be rather unpleasant. Words like ‘abusive’ and ‘tyrannical’ get thrown around. It’s the kind of passage which makes evangelical Bible scholars turn pale and run for cover. It’s tempting to retreat into theodicy here; that is, to try to explain away God’s actions and put a spin on events which presents God as a nice guy after all. But you need to be quite staggeringly theologically agile to manage that.

Here’s the thing: we don’t have to respond like that. If we see the plagues and the wider Exodus narrative as a piece of literature and interpret it as a piece of literature, it offers us an entirely new angle on the discussion. As a character in the story, God appears in Exodus 3 as a mysterious and inscrutable figure. He is simply ‘I AM’. (And even that is ambiguous in the original Hebrew. Don’t even get me started on that.) Throughout the Exodus narrative, God gradually reveals more of himself to Moses and, by extension, to the reader. By the middle of chapter 15, we know far more about who God is and how he thinks and acts than we did in chapter 3. The plagues are part of this process of self-revelation. At this stage in the story, we don’t know why God does what he does, because he hasn’t really explained it. Exodus doesn’t present a God who is evil and sadistic. It presents a God who is inscrutable, transcendent and seemingly unknowable, but who gradually reveals more of himself to those who follow him.

OK. So that’s probably not an entirely convincing explanation. It doesn’t quite expunge the rivers of blood which flow through the whole book. But it seems to me to be a helpful insight. (And yes, of course I’ve borrowed it from other people. Please immediately go and read everything John Barton and Robert Alter have ever written.) What do you think of all this?

What’s the story?

exodus

I promised I’d blog every now and then about my master’s, so, here’s the first post on that. In my dissertation, I’ll be focusing on the Exodus narrative, combining literary and theological interpretations. When I tell people about this, I get an interesting range of reactions. A few people – largely other academic types – get genuinely excited about it and ask me to tell them more. Others smile weakly, glaze over and hope I change the subject quickly. And finally (and I’ve had quite a few of these), there are those who just seem baffled about why I’m bothering. For that third category of my friends, here are some thoughts:

The Exodus is a crucial event in the heritage of Judaism and, by extension, of Christianity. (I could call it seminal, but I won’t, because I don’t think anyone really knows what that means. Myself included.) How we interpret that event and the figures involved has a huge bearing on how we understand God and live out our faith.

Secondly, I want to use literary ideas to interpret the narrative, because the Bible IS literature, not a theology textbook. For the majority of the Bible, the Exodus included, you can’t just pull out a simple ‘moral to the story’. Very often, the narrator gives us no idea at all of whether a person’s actions were good, evil or somewhere in between. To understand a passage in depth, it’s almost always necessary to dig into what the writer was trying to achieve, how he’s presenting his characters and why he’s portraying them in those ways. Yes, I still believe the Bible is inspired by God. But I also believe that biblical narrative was put together with incredible skill. The complexity of the narrative structure, the well-rounded characters and the subtle use of rhetoric and irony are quite staggering when you compare them with other writings of the OT period. We miss out on all of that if we just go cherry-picking for propositional truths.

There’s also the whole theodicy thing – trying to explain or justify God’s actions when they initially seem shocking or unfair. Treating the Bible as literature presents some interesting possibilities on that. Next time, I’ll explain what I mean by looking at the 10 plagues as an example. Bet you can’t wait.