Psalms with a flourish

Last week I went on a Biblical Studies Break at Sarum College, Salisbury. Stephen Dawes led four days of study of the book of Psalms.  I love the Old Testament.  I came away with lots to think about God, life, the universe, and so forth.

Here are a few starting points:

  • God’s call to Abram in Genesis 12 and God’s covenant with him.
  • Jesus’ call: “Come and follow me.”
  • The opening words of the 10 commandments in Exodus 20: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery . . .”
  • Jeremiah’s word (or God’s) to the exiles in Jeremiah 29.11: “I know the plans I have for you, plans for your shalom and not for harm.”

The call of God comes first.  Liberation comes before the law.  God’s plan for us is shalom – peace, well-being, flourishing, whole-ness.  That’s a big picture that includes everyone and everything – all flourishing.

So it’s important to take care with relationships and with the whole way I live, so that I am whole-some – nurturing whole-ness and trying not to do harm by objectifying, degrading or using someone or something for my selfish ends at a cost to their flourishing.

Scary stuff.  Using the car because I’ve got to carry something; being irritable with the family because I’m tired and can’t be bothered; letting friendships drift through want of making the effort to stay in touch; wasting money when there are others who need it; eating meat (uh oh) – it’s all anti-shalom.  And because God loves the people hurt by my sin, and because in hurting them I set back the coming of his peaceful kingdom, I hurt God.

On the other hand, some Psalms remind us of the enduring love of God and of his covenant with us.  The covenant survived the exile.  God patiently and persistently calls and liberates a people to follow Jesus and be joined in a new covenant, to be part of a new creation of peace, well-being, flourishing and whole-ness.  God’s mercy is new every morning.  I don’t need to feel guilty, but I do need to respond to his call.  In that way, I can walk in forgiveness and hope and new life.

That’s my big thought right now.  Reconciliation, integrity, the gift of the Spirit, the life of the Spirit making all things new – all of us together.

Here endeth the sermon, here beginneth the lesson.

Meat Is Murder

I was preaching on 1 Corinthians 8 on Sunday – about meat sacrificed to idols.  Not really a live issue for me or the good people of Hove, but I took the line that thinking about others is a live issue – especially those who are vulnerable.  I dealt with it along the lines of how we deal with disagreements – whether we try to score points and win the argument, or deal in love with each other to build each other up and build up the body of Christ.  (“Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” – v.1).

However, maybe I was avoiding an obvious, more direct challenge of the text: meat.

I love eating meat.  But for some time I have been troubled by how I see the ethics of it.  Bacon, more than anything else, keeps me omnivorous, as the hot fat sears my conscience.

There are two main issues that bother me.

One is that a sentient being was killed so that I could eat it.  Whether meat or fish, an animal was killed.  It may have been killed humanely (although that’s difficult with a fish), but it may not.  I don’t really know.  We try to buy good meat – free range, organic and local where possible, but we put a lot of trust in a big system – trusting that the farmer cared for his/her animals.  We don’t visit the farms or the abattoirs to see for ourselves.  Sometimes when the children say grace, they don’t just thank God, they thank the chicken too.  It’s a bit off-putting, but maybe without that awareness of the death of the animal, it’s irresponsible to eat it.  But however kind the farmer and however humane the method of slaughter, to kill something seems essentially violent.  I’m not sure I really want to take part in that violence.

The other thing that bothers me is the thought that eating meat on anything but an occasional basis is unsustainable.  I could bore you with the figures, but the basic point is that farming meat is a very inefficient use of land.   When my brother and sister are starving, should I (or people acting on my behalf) be feeding grain and soybeans, etc to animals so that I can then eat the animal?  If seven billion people are going to have enough to eat, that ‘enough’ will not be able to include much, if any, meat – there simply isn’t enough agricultural land.

So on both those counts, my meaty diet is causing poverty and hunger for my weaker brothers and sisters somewhere in the world.   Am I eating meat that’s been sacrificed to the idol of my own pleasure?  Am I engaging in a combination of violence, exploitation, greed and stealing the bread from the mouths of the poor?  That’s not quite St Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians, but is it that far removed from it?  Maybe I should stop eating meat and cut back on dairy produce while I’m at it.

On the pro-meat side of the argument, though, there are farmers who rely on me eating their animals.  Also, I have an omnivorous digestive tract.  Also, according to Luke 24.42-43, Jesus ate fish.   Also, catering for vegetarians is a rotten nuisance.   Also, I love eating meat.   All this talk of eating has made me peckish, and I think there’s some ham in the fridge which would go nicely with a little chutney in a sandwich . . .

What made me start a blog

My 16 year old son is very irritating.  He sits in the kitchen with the radio on, and as soon as one song finishes, he flicks to another station.  He doesn’t like listening to the presenters or adverts, and he is quite fussy about the songs he is prepared to listen to.

I think the trouble is that I have let Google wire his brain.   He is evidence of a world in which experiences are chosen by an individual in short packages depending on how attractive the heading is on a results page.  Those experiences might be entertainment or information or interactions with friends.  Everything is individualized, atomized and fragmented.   Or is it actually more connected, but in a different way – a giant web with many nodal points, each centred on a person with the webs from that node constructed according to that person’s choices but interwoven with webs from other personal nodes?

Educationalists (including the Education Secretary) speak about the days of thirty children in front of a teacher being numbered.  They paint a picture of personalized learning, with students choosing their own curriculum, which they access on a computer in a booth.

I don’t like the look of this new world.  In our house we have Radio 4 on all day (just not in the kitchen when our son is there) and we learn lots of interesting things we didn’t know we were interested in before.  I spend a lot of time putting together programmes of worship, hymns, prayers, sermons, teaching and so on.  My idea is that these programmes will engage people’s attention, most importantly in God, and challenge them and stretch them.  I also think that community is very important, and one of the things I am trying to do is encourage people to join together and build deeper and more committed communities.  I am perpetually puzzled that most people are not interested.

Am I being a complete Luddite?  Am I just worried that what I have to offer would be impossible to market attractively on a results page?  Is my son being a prophet to his old Dad?  Is he channeling the voice of God to me to get with the new world, to be better connected, to join Facebook, to write a blog (done that, just now), to buy a smart phone, to drag the Radio 4-style church into the 21st century?

Or am I right to be concerned?  Is this new culture leading us away from engagement with a world of pain and need and finding God within it?  Is this new culture so dependent on technology (and devices that are out-of-date as soon as you buy them) that it is obscenely wasteful and unsustainable?

Or is the choice more complex than that?  Is a world of sustainable justice and peace for over 7 billion people only possible through the creative use of new technologies?

My decision will have to wait.  I’ve got a 20-minute sermon to write and choose some suitable hymns for everyone on Sunday.