Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Duh Veenchi Kode

I have been quiet on the Da Vinci thing for a reason……..it is fiction, enough said? I guess not.

Not too long ago I get this phone call from a reporter asking me. “As a pastor what are you going to do with this whole Da Vinci Code in your church? Are you going to use it as a tool for outreach/evangelism?” “What?” I asked. He replies, “The book, the movie…” I responded, “IT IS FICTION!” Enough said. I think he was truly disappointed with the fact that we were not jumping on the Da Vinci bandwagon and thus I made for another lousy story.

All the branding and marketing reminds me of the Purpose Driven or the Passion, and I wonder what really drives the western church? Anyway, I have other thoughts right now that I will keep to myself. It is my blog and I am entitled to that!

Back to Duh Vinchi. For those who need an answer:
There are a number of Christian authors who have released books critiquing The Da Vinci Code. They include:
Lee Strobel, Exploring the Da Vinci Code (co-authored with Gary Poole)
Josh McDowell, The Da Vinci Code: A Quest for Answers
Darrell Bock, Breaking the Da Vinci Code
James Garlow and Peter Jones, Cracking Da Vinci’s Code

Even Sony Pictures found a way to walk the public relations tightrope between not refuting any of Brown’s story and not alienating Christians. They have launched a website (www.thedavincichallenge.com) that allows critics of the book and film to speak freely about their concerns and attempt to correct what they believe are inaccuracies in both. In one sense, I see Sony’s website seems like a meager offering to appease offended Christians who are annoyed by the film with the hope that they will not likely go as nuts as some Muslims recently did over a cartoon. (OH RELAX, I KNOW THE HISTORY)

The Christian establishment worked itself into a frenzy over the book and now the movie. Both the book and the movie are a mess. Sermons have been preached about it and ministries have put out treatises debunking it. All of which is fine - if things are bad, get the alarm bells ringing. But when the movie came out…it came out with a resounding thud. Here was a typical review: “ The Da Vinci Code is a terrible movie. It’s a movie that’s too stupid to appreciate it’s own stupid origins, and so it takes itself completely seriously.” Four out of five reviewers thought it was a bad movie. Just thought you should know: the sky isn’t falling. Everybody can go back to watching all the other nonheretical Hollywood movies in the theatres.

BTW check out Jamie’s review at http://emergentvoyageurs.blog.com/

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

More on Prayer...

I have had this prayer of St. Francis for a while. I invite you to read it, to ruminate on it and then to comment…

You are holy, Lord, the only God,and Your deeds are wonderful.
You are strong.
You are great.
You are the Most High.
You are Almighty.
You, Holy Father are King of heaven and earth.
You are Three and One, Lord God, all Good.
You are Good, all Good, supreme Good,Lord God, living and true.
You are love.
You are wisdom.
You are humility.
You are endurance.
You are rest.
You are peace.
You are joy and gladness.
You are justice and moderation.
You are all our riches, and You suffice for us.
You are beauty.You are gentleness.
You are our protector.
You are our guardian and defender.
You are our courage.
You are our haven and our hope.
You are our faith, our great consolation.
You are our eternal life, Great and Wonderful Lord,God Almighty, Merciful Saviour.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Spiritual Disciplines: Prayer Part 1

Someone asked me about prayer…so here are some quick ramblings….

What is prayer? Prayer is an effort to communicate verbally with GOD. In prayer we offer praise, make requests, or simply express one's thoughts and emotions.

St. Therese of the Child Jesus explains: "For me, prayer is an uplifting of the heart, a glance toward heaven, a cry of gratitude and of love in times of sorrow as well as of joy"

The Christian seeks to raise the mind as well as the heart to God. Prayer, as discourse with a friend, is not constrained, but rather should be spontaneous. Certain prayer events are organized, of course, as in the case of church gatherings, yet even during such events the specific discourse between the soul and God may be spontaneous. A Psalm, for example, may offer different meanings depending on the mood of the person praying. For the Christian, prayer is love, and to "Pray always" (Luke 18:1) is to love always. The Christian grows spiritually through the life of prayer. Someone once said: “as air is to the body, so prayer is to the soul.”

Since the early church was made up of many with a Jewish lineage and history, a large part of the private prayers of its members followed typical Hebrew format. Praying three times a day became the daily practice of the person, though, instead of a community encouraged practice. This adaptation was largely due to the problem that Christianity had not yet become a country-endorsed religion. While the Jews were able to communally close shops and trade for the sake of their Sabbath, the ability to maintain such a discipline among Jewish and Gentile Christians wasn't met with the same enthusiasm. This private practice would later develop into family devotions and personal "quiet times." In the gatherings of the early church prayer was offered frequently throughout the worship service with the Lord's Prayer taking its place as the anchor - a common ritual in each gathering.

Prayer is done in a variety of ways. There is ‘vocal prayer’ or ‘praying out loud.’ Vocal prayer may be prayer of petition, perhaps the simplest form of prayer. Some have termed it the "social approach" to prayer. In this view, a person asks GOD for a need to be fulfilled; GOD is thought to listen to prayer and to be free to grant the request or not. Vocal prayer may also include words of adoration, praise, thanksgiving, intercession, and communion.

There is also ‘meditative prayer.’ This is prayer of a more interior character than vocal prayer would tend to imply. Christian theology, e.g. St. John of the Cross, teaches that this type of prayer is intended to help "obtain some knowledge and love of God" (Ascent of Mount Carmel).
In this prayer the person will pray internally. The person may form sentences mentally, or may simply bask in what the Christian would consider the love of God. Then there is what some call ‘contemplative prayer.’ The progression from vocal, to meditative, to contemplative prayer is not a straight road, nor does the Christian travel in one direction. Some teach that after one reads/meditates on scripture (Lectio divina) they contemplate what they have read and in that process ask GOD to speak to them through His words.

What about our physical posture? Certain physical gestures often accompany prayer, including standing, bowing, sitting laying flat, kneeling. Sometimes hands are placed together, or arms wide open or palms up… There are of course many different ways of praying, and many forms of expression of the same words and ideas. And although communication with God is good, there is a danger that prayer can sometimes be reduced to the trivial or nonsensical. “GOD is great, GOD is good…”

When we pray I believe we need to be aware of what we are saying and communicating to both GOD and, if in a corporate setting, what others are listening to. In other words, I hope that when someone hears us pray, they will not say that all we are saying is just 'a set of words'. We have to guard that our prayer does not descend to meaningless repetition of words, does not sink to saying things without some thought or reflection about what it is we are saying. In my experience many people who pray in a corporate setting slip in “Lord GOD” and “Jesus” as every fourth word. Is this wrong? No, but we need to realize that our prayers are communicating to those who are in ear shot. Even though we may not fall into the trap of meaningless or mindless repetition of words when we pray, there are occasions when perhaps we put less thought or effort into our communications with God than we ought.

Fortunately the remedy is a simple one. We can ask God to help us pray! We may not feel that we are then praying as we can, we may not feel anything out of the ordinary, but it is a first step in the right direction, a first or further step into entering into a more meaningful dialogue with God our Creator on whom we depend for everything. Such a dialogue forms part of the relationship that we share with God, and is fundamental to our whole being.

If we can just let this most fundamental relationship with God occupy first place in our lives, then whatever we do and say in prayer, or however we pray, will never be a meaningless set or pack of words. Instead, real communication will occur, and it will take us further in our relationship with God, and so flow out into our own lives and the lives of those whom we encounter. So, just give it a try…daily….

Monday, May 01, 2006


Someone asked me to write on depression…so today I will. Depressed, have you been there? Have you ever been in a real dark hole? I have. That may surprise some of you. After all, many people think that Christians shouldn’t feel depressed, and if they do, they must be failures! This certainly is a big stick with which I have seen many Christians beat themselves with. It made them feel worse and made the dark hole they were in feel even darker and deeper. Yet I can not find any example of such action in the Bible, even though it deals with many people who were depressed. Rather than beating people up, God dealt with individuals in loving ways.

It is important to remember this when dealing with people who are depressed, as what appears a trivial stimulus to you, may in fact be ‘the last straw’ for them.
How did I deal with my situation? I covered it up to those around me, for fear of losing face and making myself vulnerable. I kept telling myself I wasn’t supposed to feel this way. Every morning when I went out to work I put on my mask of ‘all is well in the world’. To everyone else I seemed my usual self, but inside I felt thoroughly miserable and as soon as I got home again the mask came off and I could stop the pretence. I remember sitting in church on some occasions wanting to scream out.

What were the main things that brought me out of this? Well, firstly I tried to assess my feelings and reactions to situations. This is not easy when on occasions you feel yourself spiraling down and find it difficult to remember what made you start feeling low in the first place. Secondly, I never stopped reading my Bible. It’s important to keep reading God’s word and meeting with his people, even though you don’t feel like it, because these are very often the means of keeping yourself sane and allowing God to speak to you. No matter how bad you feel, don’t spite yourself by cutting off some of your routes to recovery. For me it was a process. I didn’t suddenly wake up one morning and feel on top of the world. It took time. If you’re feeling low you need to allow God and time to restore you. Similarly, if you know of someone who’s feeling low be patient with them.

Depression is not a particularly modern phenomenon. The psalmist who wrote Psalms 42 and 43 knew what real anguish was. However, he also knew where his help lay. In 1 Kings 19, Elijah hit rock bottom and asked God if he might not die. However, God dealt graciously with him and met his needs. Even Moses hit rock bottom when the burden of leading the Israelites was too great for him (Nu 11:10-15). He wanted to die as well, because he couldn’t take the strain any longer. Does this sound familiar? Even this great hero of the faith was so depressed that he wanted to die. Yet later in the passage we see how God lovingly dealt with him. God didn’t make him feel worse or give him a hard time. Instead he gave Moses exactly what he needed - more men to help and share the burden. These are the actions of a loving and understanding God. We would do well to learn from the example of the great Master and Healer.

BUT we need to use the Bible with sensitivity. I would warn against being tempted to ‘throw’ glib verses at people, just to make them (and yourself, for that matter) feel better. I think this can be one of the most uncaring and hurtful actions that you can take. For example, I remember dealing with a Christian man who was really quite depressed and had been for some months. But what made his depression worse were his Christian friends and his church. No-one had a grasp of how he felt, rather they thought that he shouldn’t feel like that. So week after week they would give him ‘a wee verse’ to cheer him up. These ill-thought actions only made his depression worse. The book of Job may teach us how to avoid being an unhelpful ‘comforter’. There is a time and place for using God’s word, but it must be in a caring manner. Often a hurting person just needs to know there is someone there for them.

Many prominent Christians in history have also been dogged with feelings of depression or anxiety. They include Martin Luther, John Bunyan, William Cowper (hymn writer), Lord Shaftesbury (the great human rights reformer), Gerard Manley Hopkins (poet), Christina Rossetti (poet and hymn writer-check the name under some of the well known Christmas carols!), Amy Carmichael (missionary), JB Phillips (theologian) and CS Lewis. I urge you to read their stories in the book ‘Genius and Grace’.

Why do people get depressed? It’s probably a multifactor thing.
Genetics. Identical twins reared apart show 60% more concordance for depression than dizygotic twins.
Biochemistry. There are excesses of 5-hydroxytryptamine receptors in the frontal cortex of brains taken from suicide victims.
Endocrinology. Approximately one third of depressed people do not have normal cortisol suppression in the dexamethasone suppression test.
Biography. Adverse life events are important (eg job loss, divorce).
Psychodynamic reasons. Freud said that depression mirrors bereavement, but the loss is of a valued object and not a person. Others support the idea of learned helplessness.
Vulnerability factors. Physical illness, pain, lack of intimate relationships.
Spiritual factors.

Depression and its associated feelings are very common. Each year, it is estimated that 40% of the population have feelings of depressed mood, unhappiness and disappointment. Of these 20% will experience a clinical depressive syndrome, in which low mood is accompanied by sleep difficulty, change in appetite, hopelessness, pessimism, or thoughts of suicide.